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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it not a fact that nine of the 10 countries due to join the European Community next year favour compulsory hallmarking and that this is such a hazardous moment because of the Italian presidency? The Italians produce a good deal of jewellery in this country, but is it not also a fact that more Italian items are destroyed for undercaratage than any others? The major risk of losing the British hallmarking system, which is such a guarantee of standards to consumers, will remain until this presidency finishes at the end of the year.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is true that the Italians revived the hallmarking directive in July. It is an issue about which they feel very strongly. That has not in any way prevented imports of Italian jewellery in to this country. At present the discussions on the working party are not making great progress. The Italians have said that they will take this matter to the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). We think that that will not make progress. We shall continue to oppose the directive.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I declare an interest. I wrote a brief for the British goldsmiths association arguing against the retention of the assay mark which, if considered carefully, is just an extra cost imposed on British jewellers. Countries elsewhere in the world can manage without such a system; it is just a market distortion. The sooner we do away with it the better. Will my noble friend reconsider his position and support the directive? That would make us more competitive in Europe.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister has told this House on more than one occasion that our Government are, fortunately, against this directive. Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government are confident that they will have sufficient support at the next Council meeting at the end of the month to frustrate this Commission proposal?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: No, my Lords. We hope that enough member states share our view to be able to block this measure, which is for qualified majority voting. However, we must recognise that there are member states which support the directive. That is why we are making a major effort to persuade other member states to come round to our point of view.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, does not speak for all Members on this side of the House, the vast majority of whom would support the Government in their total opposition to this directive? If the noble Lord, Lord Desai, needs further direction on this matter, he is very welcome to come and talk to the people at the Birmingham Mint, who will soon put him right about this fundamental measure of consumer protection.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we remain confident that the systems are in place to ensure that humanitarian relief provided by the United Kingdom reaches those most in need. The World Food Programme and others distributing international food aid all have clear procedures and monitoring systems in place, and these are working well. Along with the United Nations, the EU and other donors, we continue to make it clear to the Zimbabwean Government that we will not tolerate political interference in the distribution of food aid.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, over the past two years, British taxpayers have poured £62 million worth of humanitarian aid into Zimbabwe. Independent reports say that that has been manipulated to help prop up the brutal dictatorship. Has the time not now come to table a UN resolution to seek monitors, not only for the distribution of food aid, but also for human rights issues?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have answered a number of Questions about the manipulation of food aid. I have made it absolutely clear that we think that the monitoring process we have put in place is robust and that there are investigations every time there is any kind of allegation. With respect to seeking a UN resolution, noble Lords will recall that in the United Nations there is no appetite for any such resolution. In fact, when we have put resolutions to the UN human rights committee, they have fallen as a result of the action taken by the African group as a whole.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that the World Food Programme is satisfied with the monitoring arrangements. Has she noted its statement that the number of people dependent on food aid will increase from 1.8 million in October to more than 5.5 million in the early months of next year? Is she satisfied that the arrangements are robust enough to cope with a trebling of the number receiving aid, particularly bearing in mind the acknowledged shortages which are occurring in the urban areas and, in particular, in Matabeleland? Will our programmes do everything possible to redress the discrimination against the urban areas and against Bulawayo where children are now starving to death from malnutrition?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I received a report this morning from an official who was in Zimbabwe last week. The numbers will rise from 1.3 million to 5.5 million, but that is because we are approaching what is called the "hungry season". So the figures will be more in line with those last year. We are confident, following our discussions in Zimbabwe last week, that the monitoring systems are robust. We have given an additional £0.5 million to the World Food Programme to cover monitoring issues. We continue to feed some 1.1 million vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, including malnourished children.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, did not the very well respected international Human Rights Watch find incontrovertible evidence that food aid is being manipulated for political ends and that some horrible and brutal decisions are being taken?
We all recognise that the Government are very limited in what they can do about this issueshort of working very hard to get rid of Mugabebut over the weekend did not the Minister hear the American President calling Zimbabwe an outpost of oppression? Is she not awareI am sure she isthat day after day our high commissioner in Harare is subjected to the most appalling and outrageous threats and insults? Is it not time that we followed the example of the American Congress and spoke out more robustly and more strongly and pushed Mr Mbeki in South Africa into the action he has promised, which is to bring this horrific nightmare to an end?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised a number of different issues. First, how robust have the UK Government been? We cannot have been more robust. A decision would not have been taken at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year, which I attended, suspending Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, if the UK Government and our Prime Minister had not been extremely robust. We were the first country to cease arms sales to Zimbabwe. We were part of the European Commission that agreed sanctions and an assets freeze. The US Government followed the European Union with respect to that.
We have been at the forefront of discussions, not just with our European partners, but with the United States and others about what we can do in Zimbabwe. I have said in this House many times that outside governments are extremely limited in what they can do regarding a government who are intent on repressing and harassing their own people. We have done our best. I have listened time and again to calls from the party opposite for us to do more, but have heard very little about what more we can do.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, can the Leader of the House explain what steps her Majesty's Government intend to take at the forthcoming Heads of Commonwealth conference in Abuja to promote a resolution to the political crisis in Zimbabwe and the flagrant abuse of human rights in that country?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we shall continue to talk with other Commonwealth countries about this matter. Noble Lords will know that Zimbabwe has not been invited to the conference by the Nigerian Government, which is hosting the event.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, we have been toldand I am sure it is truethat we are working very closely with the EU on this matter. The EU is, in turn, beginning to work very closely with the African Union. I think that the Minister will agree that the African Union has consistently blocked our efforts to bring the issue to the United Nations. Is it part of our express policy to urge all our EU partners to press the African Union no longer to continue that opposition, but to allow a resolution to be properly discussed, as it should be, in the United Nations?
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