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Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the troika empowered to make the final decision on suspension or will it have to refer the matter back to a superior authority?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the troika has the power to make the decision. That is precisely why the troika was agreed; that is, so that the decision will not have to be taken back to all the Commonwealth heads of government.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that the Commonwealth acted on other countries, but not African ones. Perhaps I may remind the noble Earl that Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth, and that Sierra Leone and Gambia have only recently been on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agenda.

A number of noble Lords have argued strongly that Zimbabwe's elections cannot possibly be free and fair. That is difficult for any reasonable person to dispute. The fact that the Opposition could still win despite that is a tribute to the strength of democracy in Zimbabwe, a sentiment expressed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place this afternoon, and by my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside in his powerful speech to this House.

However, there is also evidence that the widespread violence and intimidation, sanctioned by ZANU-PF, is having an effect. As many noble Lords have pointed out in the debate, an election is not just about the polling day. The campaign in Zimbabwe began as far back as early last year, when the attacks on the judiciary and the independent media began.

When we come to make our own assessment of the election, the Government will be guided by the conclusions of the 28th January European Union General Affairs Council, negotiated by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Those conclusions echoed the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum's own election norms and standards. Those are: that Zimbabwean voters should be free to choose whom they will support, without intimidation or fear of recrimination; that political parties should be free to form and seek support through campaigning, without restriction or intimidation; that the independent media should be free to gather and impart information; and that reporting in state-controlled media should contain a fair balance of parties' views. Other important norms include impartial electoral administration, the early accreditation of independent monitors and observers, adequate equipment and ballots, and the prompt transfer of power to the winners.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked specifically about the numbers of observers to be deployed. The Commonwealth deployed 59 observers, the Southern

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African Development Community 37 observers, and South Africa 57 observers and a 20 strong parliamentary delegation. In addition, there are other observers from countries such as Nigeria and I am aware that the OAU has also sent observers. But I have no information about those individual, bilateral observers.

The Government understand the deep anxiety of ordinary Zimbabweans and the concerns of those here who care about Zimbabwe. We have taken a strong, consistent line on the government of Zimbabwe's abuses of power. We have worked with our African, European, Commonwealth, North American and other partners to exert maximum influence on the regime. We have taken action. Once it became clear that the Zimbabwean Government would not allow a credible observation effort, the EU moved to targeted sanctions on 18th February and the US imposed a travel ban on 23rd February.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, suggested that we should be engaged in dialogue with South Africa and other African countries about the impact of the situation in Zimbabwe on the continent and the region. We have been engaged in such discussions. In fact, I recall that I have been criticised in this House by noble Lords on the Benches opposite for doing precisely that.

The noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso and Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, all mentioned the humanitarian situation and food shortages. Zimbabwe is indeed facing critical food shortages. Many thousands of Zimbabweans are now short of food, cooking oil and other basic goods. A deeper crisis is now certain whatever the election may bring. The projected figure for the 2002 harvest is 1 million tonnes. This is only half of the country's needs for the coming year. The causes of this crisis in production are complex but inter-related—the disruption to farming activities due to the fast-track land seizures; natural causes such as the prolonged mid-season drought; and, of course, the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I am aware that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has been waiting for replies to his PQs on food aid. I apologise unreservedly to him for the delay in getting responses to him. I shall of course chase them up immediately.

In response to the widespread shortages, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development authorised in September last year £4 million support for a supplementary feeding programme targeting more than 300,000 people, mainly schoolchildren. This is being run through non-governmental channels. The UN World Food Programme also began targeted feeding at the end of February, but recently halted operations for the period around the election. It plans to reinstate its programme with full-scale implementation after the election. We have contributed £3.5 million towards this programme and pledged further support. Further support for food inputs in Zimbabwe is part of the DfID contingency plans.

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The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked specifically about targeted sanctions. I can confirm that they will not have an impact on the work of NGOs or on the supply and delivery of food aid.

A free and independent press is a vital element in the maintenance of democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law in any country. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked about SW Radio Africa. SW Radio Africa operates independently with its own sources of funding, and that is how it should be.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked about the prospects for the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield referred to its importance. This is an African-led process and contains within it an important recognition of the need for political and economic governance, a point raised specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever.

The right reverend Prelate also referred to Uganda, one of the countries where we have an important development relationship. Primary education is one of our key areas, so I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate was able to see the success of our policy on the ground.

Africa remains a major priority of British policy. We are engaged in it for the long term. The international community's response to the New Partnership for Africa's Development will involve not only G8 action—and the G8 action plan on Africa is due to be considered in June this year—but will also involve the response from other financial institutions, the EU, the UN and others.

Zimbabwe has been like a cloud hanging over the New Partnership for Africa's Development—it was a key part of the discussions at the last G8 planning meeting in Cape Town, for example—but it is important to remind noble Lords that NePAD is a process, one in which we will continue to be engaged. We want to see a strong mature partnership with African countries based on leadership and mutual accountability.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that good governance is an essential element of that partnership, but there are other key issues. We are focused today on Zimbabwe—and in many of the discussions we have had recently on Africa we have talked about Zimbabwe—but other major issues need to be addressed in Africa. There are conflicts in countries the size of DRC and Sudan—both of which are independently larger than Western Europe—and a long-term conflict in Angola, which finally has the possibility of being resolved with the recent death of Savimbi.

In major areas such as economic growth, trade and investment, Africa accounts for only 1 per cent of world FDI. These are the kinds of issues that we can address successfully through the New Partnership for Africa's Development. I hope that we will be able to secure agreement all round the House for the work that we are doing to make that partnership a reality.

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I know that many noble Lords share the frustrations of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who described feelings of sadness and anger in speaking about Zimbabwe. No one should doubt the Government's commitment to the people of Zimbabwe. We will wholeheartedly support a truly democratic and inclusive Zimbabwe. But we must also recognise that Zimbabwe is an independent country. The ultimate responsibility for a change in direction lies with the Zimbabwean people themselves. It is up to them now to go out and vote and to ensure that their voice is heard. They must be allowed to do so.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a useful and important debate. We have agreed in general on the analysis although there have been some—but not very many—disagreements about the way ahead.

We have, in addition, agreed on four points. We can all see the potential for disaster and human suffering if things go wrong; it is difficult to be optimistic about how things will look in a month's time, although the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso shed a little light by his reference to a united government; we have faith in the ordinary people of Zimbabwe; and we see the enormous importance of a successful outcome for NePAD and for the Commonwealth. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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