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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this Government are always together. The Department of Health and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister hope to issue guidance very shortly. I believe that local authorities will find it helpful and supportive. The guidance will give a great deal of good advice on how they should develop their strategies. In doing so, we are particularly anxious that local authorities pick up the pressing need of older carers who have devoted their lives to their children with learning disabilities and worry about the future. We intend to monitor how local authorities take forward those plans and proposals.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, people with an appalling disability should be a priority group but they have been neglected. Is it not likely that the Government's guidance will also be neglected? Can my noble friend say whether Section 7 guidance is mandatory?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, so far as concerns Section 7 guidance, the courts have held that local authorities are required to follow the path charted by the Secretary of State's guidance. They have liberty to deviate from it where they judge, on admissible grounds, that there is a good reason to do so but they do not have the freedom to take a

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substantially different course. I believe that that makes the position absolutely clear. As my noble friend suggests, I acknowledge that the record of local authorities in this area has been very patchy. That is why local partnership boards will be required to produce housing strategies in the winter of 2002–03. Those will be informed by the local assessments of needs, which are being reviewed at present, and by the guidance that I have already mentioned.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that village communities are the cheapest and happiest places for people with learning difficulties to live in? Anything that the Government can do to stimulate the creation of further village communities will do most to solve this problem.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord's deep concern about the value of village communities and his wish to ensure that such provision is available. He will know that the White Paper specified that village communities are one option which local partnership boards, comprising local authorities and other statutory agencies at local level, will take into account. I recognise that, for some people, village communities offer a genuine option. Equally, we expect the local partnership boards to consider other options as well, including supported living and other approaches that have been shown to work well.

Lord Addington: My Lords, what guidance do the Government intend to give to people in their fifties, for example, whose children with learning disabilities live with them? Can the Minister say something about future planning? Thankfully, the life expectancy of those with learning disabilities is being raised all the time. However, that means that over time the problem to which I refer will increase.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that point was made in the recent report by Mencap, which criticises local authorities for dealing only with the problem of older carers when perhaps one carer has died or a crisis point is reached. Clearly, the more we plan in advance the better. The local partnership boards are now undertaking an assessment of those kinds of needs in order to be able to plan for the future.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government will now be urgently reviewing the availability of local authority funded housing support places for this priority group, since at the present rate of progress—227 places a year—it will take 30 years to meet the needs of people with a learning disability now living with parents aged 70 and above?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the precise point of the Section 7 guidance is to ensure that local authorities within the partnership boards develop a local housing strategy. It is our expectation that in the light of their assessment of local needs of people with

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learning disabilities and their carers, local authorities will develop a housing strategy this winter, which we shall carefully review.

We are keen to emphasise to local authorities that while they need to look at special provisions, much of the availability of social housing could well prove to be attractive to people with learning disabilities. It is important that all options are considered.


3.22 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their current policies towards Zimbabwe.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, there is a strong international consensus opposed to the actions of the Zimbabwe regime. We shall work to strengthen that consensus, while supporting credible regional efforts—in particular the joint initiative of South Africa and Nigeria—to restore democratic legitimacy to Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that at their June meeting, the European Union foreign ministers decided not to intensify the sanctions against Mr Mugabe and his cronies? Can she also confirm that at the recent G8 conference in Canada the documents issued by the conference contained no reference to Zimbabwe, nor did the Statement on the G8 conference given by the Prime Minister last week in another place?

Is the disappearance of Zimbabwe from the Government's radar screen the result of the fact that in the new treaty for the African union great importance is attached to human rights and good governance and not least to peer pressure to remedy any backsliding? Is the Government's policy now to leave any effort towards remedying the situation in Zimbabwe, which is causing ruin in most of Southern Africa, to African countries alone?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, Zimbabwe has not disappeared from the Government's radar screen. We have discussed Zimbabwe on many occasions in this House and sought to make clear the UK position. Clearly, I have not been successful in that. Perhaps my communication skills are at fault.

I shall repeat the Government's position. We deplore the violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. We deeply regret the economic mismanagement which has led to a food crisis. That means that nearly 50 per cent of the population could need supplementary feeding by the end of the year. We have worked consistently to ensure international consensus on the issue. At the Commonwealth "troika" meeting, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Council of the Commonwealth. We have pressed the importance of human rights and good governance through the G8

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process. The G8 Africa action plan contains several strong statements about the importance of good governance and the rule of law. I hope that noble Lords will read that.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the Government's policy on Zimbabwe is broadly right. However, a solution to the problem will have to come from the African countries. Is my noble friend aware that our efforts should therefore be concentrated on trying to influence the African countries which can put pressure on Mr Mugabe to change his policies? I refer in particular to the South African Government. They persuaded Mr Smith to change his policies. Perhaps they will have the same effect on Mr Mugabe.

My noble friend spoke of starvation in Southern Africa. Which policies are the Government in a position to implement in relation to the starving people in Zimbabwe? How will we get the food to them?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The leadership shown from within the African continent is essential in helping to resolve the issue. I have spoken on many occasions about the importance of peer pressure from the countries around Zimbabwe, particularly as they suffer from the economic mismanagement in Zimbabwe. In that context, the Southern African Development Community, including South Africa, is important.

As regards the food crisis in southern Africa, and in particular Zimbabwe, it is important that a different kind of economic management and a sustainable and transparent land reform process are put in place. Clearly, distribution of food will be a problem. However, we remain committed to working with our international partners, including the World Food Programme, on that issue.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, did the Minister note the action of the southern African churches on the UN international day in support of victims of torture, at which numerous testimonies were given of rape, violence and torture? Did she note also the suggestion made in South Africa that sooner or later there will have to be a truth commission to deal with those events? Will the Government support an international initiative to collect and validate witness statements so that in due course such a truth commission would be armed with the fullest possible facts?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware that not only the South African churches but other NGOs are concerned with the situation in Zimbabwe and, in particular, victims of torture. At present, our focus is not only on creating a political consensus but on dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis. I am aware that discussions are ongoing, particularly in the NGO community, about the possibility of a truth commission. Those are not discussions in which we as a government are currently engaged. However, once we get through the current crisis, we shall seriously consider the matter.

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