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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly give way for one minute? I shall be most interested to know whether, if he were leading the Conservative Party and entering a dialogue with President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, he would be prepared to meet him personally, because that is the dilemma facing the European leaders.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, any speculation about me leading the Conservative Party is pretty remote and I shall not pursue that. I do not believe that I would wish to welcome him and give him any official credence whatsoever at this stage. It is deeply regrettable and inexcusable that that has been done.

I conclude by saying that I have always had the most profound hope that South Africa would rise and prosper--it can do so--where black and white and all the other races would mingle as they have done in many other societies in the past. But for me that hope trembles at the moment because I believe that a much firmer line is required in relation to the horrors of Zimbabwe. Until one sees that, the whole picture is threatened.

6.51 p.m.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for initiating this very important debate. Its quality has been enhanced

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by the knowledge and expertise of all noble Lords who have participated. Many noble Lords have mentioned the challenges facing the countries of southern Africa. In particular, there is poverty, conflict, HIV/AIDS, lack of investment and growth, corruption and a lack of transparency and accountability.

But there are also opportunities in southern Africa which did not exist five years ago. There are opportunities for creating peace and stability; for using the region's rich natural resources and for unleashing the talents of its people. There are opportunities to revitalise its infrastructure, harness information technology and to encourage foreign investment. These opportunities must be harnessed to create economic growth so that the region can raise the living standards of all its people.

Growth rates in southern Africa have been disappointing, but higher growth rates are achievable. As my noble friend Lady Whitaker said, Botswana has experienced an average growth rate of 9.2 per cent in the past five years, building on 30 years of stability and growth. Mozambique has generated an average growth rate of 11 per cent since 1997.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that future growth rates in southern Africa will be heavily dependent on expanding trade and attracting investment. Southern African countries are pushing forward to create a free trade area within SADC. My noble friend Lady Whitaker and other noble Lords, raised the issue of tariff barriers. The creation of a free trade area within SADC commits those countries to a substantial programme of reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers which currently deter investment. Creating the conditions for investment and growth, including open markets for products from southern African countries, and encouraging African producers to identify and take advantage of trade opportunities, is vital.

As many noble Lords have said, involvement in conflict remains a huge barrier for development in many countries in Africa. It is a human tragedy, with devastating effects on services, an enormous loss of infrastructure, a reduction in investment and an increased debt burden. I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, when they spoke about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The war there is not only causing destruction and despair in the Great Lakes region, but it could also threaten stability more widely on the African continent. As noble Lords have mentioned, five other countries and numerous rebel groups have already been drawn into what has been called Africa's first world war.

However, the new president, Joseph Kabila, has said that he wants to implement the Lusaka peace accord and start the inter-Congolese dialogue which is intended to lead eventually to more inclusive government. At a meeting in New York on 21st and 22nd February, agreement was reached between the Security Council and the signatories at Lusaka on a realistic start date for the disengagement of forces in

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the DRC. Planning a full withdrawal of all foreign forces will follow. We will continue to hold all parties to the commitments they made in New York.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of Zimbabwe's involvement in the DRC conflict. We are extremely concerned about the level of spending on defence by the Zimbabwean government, largely as a result of their own involvement in the DRC conflict. Zimbabwe's economy will not be able to start the recovery process while defence spending remains high. We continue to urge its government and the other combatants in the DRC conflict to work towards implementation of the Lusaka peace agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me specifically about the security of the NGOs in the eastern DRC. It is clearly a matter of concern. We hope that the security of NGOs will be taken into account in discussions on the planned withdrawal among the UN and the parties to the conflict. We will be discussing all aspects of the conflict, including security issues, with Joseph Kabila when he is in the United Kingdom.

I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford that we are committed to supporting, with the international community, a comprehensive framework for conflict prevention in Africa which will encompass conflict prevention, reduction, resolution and peace-building. The United Nations has a crucial role in peace-keeping and peace-building. Regional structures within Africa will also remain a key element in any security framework.

The United Kingdom is working to improve the coherence between our foreign policy, military and development objectives. We are increasing our support for security sector reform, the tightening of controls over United Kingdom arms exports and pushing for tighter international controls on small arms and uncertified diamonds from conflict regions.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, commented on allegations of illegal arms sales from French companies to the Angolan government. We are aware of these allegations, but it is a matter for the French government. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke of the impact of what he called "lucrative spoils"--diamonds--on the conflict in the region. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, also spoke about that. Conflict diamonds account for less than four per cent of world trade in rough diamonds. Nevertheless, it is vital that action is taken to deny market access to illegally mined diamonds, the proceeds of which fuel bitter civil war in places such as Angola.

Southern African countries took the lead last year in promoting an inter-governmental process which also included industry and civil society. The Kimberley process, as it is known, helped to formulate a resolution last December in the UN General Assembly calling for an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. Many details are still to be resolved, but I hope that progress can be made over the coming months so that the next session of the UN General Assembly in the autumn will be able to endorse an agreed international scheme.

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The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about the monitoring mechanism on Angola sanctions. We shall continue to work with our UN partners to ensure that monitoring of the sanctions regime against UNITA is as effective as possible.

I now turn to Zimbabwe. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, set out very clearly the economic, social and human rights issues facing Zimbabwe. Other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Howell of Guildford, and many others, spoke powerfully about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has the potential to be a powerhouse for economic development in the region, yet we see its stability threatened by economic mismanagement and by policies which owe more to the short-term goal of political survival than to the longer-term development needs of its people. The current fast-track land resettlement strategy is undermining agricultural productivity and threatens the livelihoods of more people than it is likely to help.

Noble Lords have mentioned the attempts of the Zimbabwe Government to intimidate their political opponents and their judges, to ignore court rulings and to silence criticism in the independent media. Those are all symptoms of a floundering regime.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, mentioned the Commonwealth Brisbane meeting and the question of Zimbabwe's continuing membership of the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of that sanction as a last deterrent. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said that he had changed his mind and now felt that Zimbabwe should leave the Commonwealth.

Action against a country that flouts the principles of the Harare declaration can be taken only in certain narrowly defined circumstances, mainly the unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government. The limitation of the Commonwealth mandate to unconstitutional overthrow is too restrictive. That is why we support an expansion of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's role to cover a wider range of sanctions.

I must point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that we have taken action. For example, we imposed a national arms embargo in May last year. Given the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Secretary announced the withdrawal of the British Military Advisory and Training Team from Harare to London at the end of March.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about harassment of the judiciary. We should share the

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concerns expressed by the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. He said:

    "The Government of Zimbabwe must comply with its obligations under international standards and stop harassing and pressurising members of the judiciary".

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