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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before we move to the Statement on Zimbabwe I take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement on the situation in Zimbabwe which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"The meeting agreed that the Commonwealth Secretary-General should visit Harare urgently in order to bring home to the Government of Zimbabwe and to make clear to the people of Zimbabwe the concerns of the Commonwealth.
"I spoke in advance to most of the Ministers present yesterday and I am pleased at the universal agreement they gave at the meeting to our concerns. The outcome exposes the efforts of President Mugabe to pretend that only Britain is critical of the conduct of his government. All Britain's concerns have now been supported by a body representing all of the Commonwealth and chaired by one of the neighbours of Zimbabwe.
"A major reason why we received ready support yesterday was the recognition that Britain had taken every reasonable step to find agreement with the Government of Zimbabwe on a fair programme of land reform. At my meeting last week with the ministerial delegation, I confirmed that Britain was ready to help to fund land reform and that we were willing to take the lead in mobilising funding from other partners such as the World Bank, the European Commission and the United States.
"However, neither Britain nor any other donor is going to fund a programme of land reform unless it is conducted within the rule of law; it is based on a fair price to the farmer; and it reduces poverty among the rural poor who have no land.
"Ministers in Zimbabwe have complained that Britain is imposing colonial conditions. There is nothing new about these conditions. They were all in the conclusions of the 1998 Land Conference which was hosted and chaired by the Government of Zimbabwe itself.
"Nevertheless last week the Zimbabwean delegation failed to give a commitment to bring the farm occupations to an end. I made clear that in those circumstances Britain could not take further any support for land reform.
"I am sorry to say that the events of the past two weeks, and President Mugabe's inflammatory speech earlier today, suggest that the Government of Zimbabwe are interested in the issue of land reform only to create a condition of crisis in which they can secure their re-election.
"The whole House will deplore the mounting evidence of political intimidation of the people of Zimbabwe. Opposition campaigners have been ambushed and beaten up. Commercial companies which display opposition posters have had their properties firebombed. Rural communities have been threatened that it will be known which ballot box came from their village. By the end of the past month of election campaigning 14 political activists had been murdered, all of them supporters of the opposition.
"No election can be fair unless there is an election campaign free from intimidation. At the meeting yesterday we agreed that the Commonwealth should send election observers to Zimbabwe, and our Statement stresses that they must be admitted as early as possible. At the weekend I will be seeking the same demand from the European Union for early entry of European observers. While the primary responsibility for ending the violence rests with the Government of Zimbabwe, the presence of international observers may help to deter some of the brutality of recent weeks and may give some confidence to those who want free expression for their views.
"In the present circumstances of spreading violence we have resolved that from today Britain will refuse all new export licence applications for arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe. That will include all licences for spare parts in connection with previous contracts such as Hawk aircraft. We are urgently reviewing all existing export licences to Zimbabwe.
"Further, I can inform the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has suspended the programme to support the supply of Land Rovers to the Zimbabwean police. As a result, the supply of the remaining 450 has been halted and will not be resumed unless there is a clear determination by the Zimbabwean police to restore the rule of law.
"But no Member of the House would want to approach our discussion on the basis of President Mugabe's claim that the solution to the problems in Zimbabwe lies in London. It does not. Zimbabwe has been independent for 20 years and President
"It is Zimbabwe's choice what its future will be. That must, though, not be the choice of the Government of Zimbabwe alone. It must be the free choice of the people of Zimbabwe through fair elections without violence, without intimidation and without fear. That was the united message from the Commonwealth yesterday. I ask this House to send the same united message today to the majority of the people of Zimbabwe who want to live in a free democracy and to be protected by the rule of law."
Zimbabwe should be one of the jewels of Africa. The country is fertile and rich in natural resources. It has an intelligent and educated population, some of the most efficient farming in the world, a judiciary that throughout the recent descent into lawlessness has remained robustly independent in its adherence to the law and the constitution, and a vibrant desire among the people for democracy and for the control of their own destiny.
We have all admired the courage of those in the opposition parties who have remained undaunted by a ruthless and systematic programme of brutal intimidation by murder and violence that at least has been countenanced, if not organised, by the governing regime. It is intolerable that a country that has been blessed with so much should be brought to its current pass by the savage acts of one man and his acolytes.
Although everyone accepts that land reform is important and that Britain should play its part, this is not about land, but an ageing despot who is clinging to power. Does the Minister agree that Britain certainly should not give further financial support for land reform without guarantees of lawful and ordered change and before receiving a full account of where the £10 million of taxpayers' money given to the Harare government last year has gone? We welcome the Government's refusal to issue further licences for military exports.
The overwhelming priority is that the elections should be held as soon as possible and that they should be open and fair. We welcome the decision of the Commonwealth to send observers to oversee the election process. However, what does the phrase, "Observers should be admitted as soon as possible" actually mean? Does the Minister not think that the delays so far have already seriously compromised any elections, as my noble friend Lord Blaker wrote in The Times this week? Furthermore, does the Minister agree with the two supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change who were quoted in today's Independent calling for the observers to come now, and not just on election day when it will be too late? Everyone knows that much of the violence is geared
Noble Lords will be pleased to learn that at last the Commonwealth has been mobilised to this cause. Does the Minister accept that the Foreign Secretary's first move to engage the European Union in pressuring Mugabe was a false step? There are many instances where the European Union is the right vehicle for action, but it is hard to imagine anything more calculated to entrench Mugabe than the spectacle of all the former colonial powers ganging together against him. It was always obvious that the Commonwealth was the right family of nations to take action here. Why did it take so long to get involved? Does the Minister agree that yesterday the Ministerial Action Group should at least have started the process of suspending the Mugabe regime from the Commonwealth, as many people in Zimbabwe, both black and white, would wish?
Surely it is ironic that it was the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, who chaired the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which suspended Nigeria in 1995. That decision removed the veneer of respectability from a dictatorial regime and helped to bring that country back to democracy and the rule of law.
I hope the Minister will agree that all people have the right to a democratic government. I am sure that she will recognise the fact that any policy which showed double standards in tolerating different levels of legitimacy would be both condescending and unacceptable.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and say that we on these Benches warmly approve of the policies of Her Majesty's Government. The Foreign Secretary has handled this issue as well as he possibly could by giving the Zimbabweans a chance to comply with the conditions which they themselves had set. The Minister pointed that out in the Statement. That was the right course of action and it was not until after that meeting that it was appropriate and proper for the matter to be laid before the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. In any case, the UK did not arrange the timing of yesterday's CMAG meeting. It was organised some time ago and it was fortuitous that the meeting took place just before a ministerial Statement could be made.
However, that was no reason why the Foreign Secretary should not have taken up these matters with the European Union as well. Surely we should seek for the world community to back the moves now being made. Although we should be pleased with the steps taken at the CMAG meeting yesterday, that should be without prejudice to any further steps that the Foreign Secretary may decide to take in enlisting the support of
Perhaps I may turn to the matter of the election. I, too, welcome the intention of Mr Don McKinnon to go to Zimbabwe to assess the position. However, can the Minister say whether it would be possible for the Commonwealth to do what it has done on previous occasions; namely, to form an opinion beforehand as to whether the conditions exist in which free and fair elections can take place? That happened in the case of the presidential election in Cameroon after a mission had been sent by the secretariat to observe the parliamentary elections. It was concluded, from observations of the conditions under which those elections were held, that it was impossible for the presidential election to be free and fair. I do not wish to prejudge what might be said about the conditions in Zimbabwe. However, two separate statements have been issued, the first from Amnesty International--the noble Baroness has probably seen it already--in which it comments that the failure to condemn and curb acts of violence has led to a state of affairs where people's freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been seriously constrained. Secondly, the committee for the protection of journalists has produced a similar statement about the lack of freedom of the press in Zimbabwe and the intimidation of the non state-owned press.
If it is found that it is no longer possible for people to express themselves or for the MDC to campaign freely and to hold election meetings--the Minister referred to the 14 members who have already been murdered--then it would not be right for us to send a mission simply to look at the mechanics of polling day. By then it would already be too late. Can the Minister ensure that this point is made to Mr Don McKinnon so that during his visit, or in any further inquiries he may make, he can ensure that the Commonwealth should now form an opinion about whether the right conditions exist in Zimbabwe for free and fair elections to be held? If not, we should not endorse the process by sending observers simply to watch what happens on polling day.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have spoken in support of the Statement and say straightaway that the Commonwealth clearly understands the acute nature of the problem with which it is faced. The fact that the Secretary-General, Mr Don McKinnon, is going to Zimbabwe this month sends a strong message from the Commonwealth. We hope that that gives us an opportunity to see and understand exactly what is happening on the ground.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, as to how soon the observers will go to Zimbabwe, "as soon as practicable" means exactly that. We are going as fast as we can. It is a matter of great urgency and importance. The necessary vigour is being applied with great energy.
The noble Baroness also mentioned aid. It should be understood that we want to make it clear to the people of Zimbabwe that it is Mr Mugabe and his actions at which the international community feels anger and distress, not the people of Zimbabwe, who are suffering greatly. Large sums in aid go to relieve the poverty which exists in the country. The noble Baroness will know that 25 per cent of the people of Zimbabwe are HIV positive. A huge amount of the money given is to relieve that acute situation. Cutting off such aid will serve only to feed Mr Mugabe's rhetoric that Britain is interested only in the politics and not in the people. So we shall not go down that road.
But I say this also: this Government have looked for support in responding to Zimbabwe's needs from wherever we could obtain it. We have excited support from the Commonwealth, from the EU, from our US partners and others. We express gratitude for the support that has been given internationally to Zimbabwe. I do not accept for a moment that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was wrong to ask for EU support. I remind the House that we seek its support in relation to the observer status; we shall seek its support in relation to land reform, and we need to take all our friends with us. Therefore, in making overtures to the EU, we in no way impeded the similarly strong overtures (which have borne great fruit) which were being made simultaneously to our Commonwealth partners. It was a multi-pronged approach and, with the grace of God, it bore fruit. That is something for which I give thanks, not criticism.
There is still much to do. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the efforts made by those in opposition in Zimbabwe who have shown great courage. Zimbabwe is lucky that it has people of worth both in its opposition and in its judiciary who still understand the meaning of democracy and the rule of law. We shall give them our support.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I welcome the Statement made by my noble friend. In particular I welcome the announcement that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth is to go to Harare and, further, that efforts are to be made to ensure that a Commonwealth team is there as soon as possible.
All of that is good news. But my noble friend's response on when we approached our Commonwealth colleagues is far from satisfactory. I am all for mobilising, in support of democracy anywhere, those who can help; in particular, I have no objection to the European Union helping if we feel that that is the most appropriate forum, or, for that matter, international monetary and other organisations as mentioned in the
The ministerial advisory committee was set up at the last CHOGM deliberately to keep an ongoing watch on threats to democracy and human rights in Commonwealth countries. Why then have we been so slow in turning to what is undoubtedly the best bet?
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