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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, due to the current situation, there is a great deal of concern and some chaos regarding the emergence of political decisions in Zimbabwe? In the light of that, does she recognise that Zimbabweans, black or white, who stand up for democracy and the rule of law could be particularly at risk? Can she assure the House that, in issuing visas, our own High Commission will bear very much in mind the claim and the record of those seeking asylum as to whether they have shown commitment to those principles in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right that the difficulties with human rights and

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the political situation in Zimbabwe continue. Indeed, in a recent case, the mayor of Harare was arrested for holding meetings on matters that fell within his jurisdiction. It is therefore important that, in issuing visas, our High Commission is not only concerned with the human rights and political situation in Zimbabwe, but, as has been said in the House before, keeps a watch for those seeking visas who may have been part of the continuing repression.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that the Government recently published ideas about concerted international action to deal with humanitarian catastrophes within states? Is she aware that the United States Administration seem to be thinking along similar lines to those of the United Kingdom Government? Does she recall that, both in 1999 and in 2002, Mr Kofi Annan said the following in the United Nations human rights commission:

    "No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples"?

Is it not time for those governments who are shocked by what is going on in Zimbabwe to get together and take steps to prevent what could turn out to be a major humanitarian catastrophe by starvation?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that there needs to be concerted international action. On the matter of human rights, he will recall that a human rights resolution on Zimbabwe was tabled at the UN Commission on Human Rights but that a blocking action by African states prevented that resolution going through. With respect to the broader humanitarian situation, the international community is gravely concerned. I myself have raised this matter with colleagues particularly in southern African countries, and we have looked at the implications for their countries in particular. We need to work to restore human rights, the rule of law and a stable democratic government in Zimbabwe for the good of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noticed the report in today's Washington Times that Mugabe might be prepared to retire to somewhere such as Malaysia and live on the proceeds of his 100 million dollars in ill-gotten gains? Does she agree that, in the light of what has happened in the case of other dictators such as Abacha in Nigeria and Fujimori in Peru, it would be totally unacceptable to allow Mugabe to walk off with the wealth that he has stolen from the Zimbabwean people?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in a speech in Lusaka on 14th January, Mugabe said that,

    "it would be foolhardy and counter-revolutionary to give up power 10 months after claiming victory in an election".

He also said:

    "I am not retiring. I will never, never go into exile. I fought for Zimbabwe and when I die I will be buried in Zimbabwe, nowhere else".

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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the latest detailed documentary advice showing how children who do not have the right ZANU-PF connections are being starved and consequently dying? Is she aware of that evidence about this violent and racist regime? If she has not seen it, would she like me to supply it to her later this afternoon?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of what has been said about the politicisation of food aid in Zimbabwe—indeed, we have discussed it in this House. I have sought to reassure the House on various occasions that the money we are giving for humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe goes through the UN and NGO channels. There are two different channels: the channel for the destitute, which is the UN/NGO channel; and the Government of Zimbabwe channel by means of the monopoly of the Grain Marketing Board. It is the latter food aid that is being politicised and diverted. We have very little influence, as noble Lords know, with the Government of Zimbabwe on that.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, do the Government recognise the constructive role played by the Government of Mozambique in welcoming fugitives from Zimbabwe, both farm workers and farmers? Do they recognise Mozambique's role in the Commonwealth and its possible importance as a diplomatic player?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Earl is quite right. There are several countries in southern Africa whose role in this crisis is absolutely critical. Mozambique is one of those countries. I have had discussions with the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mozambique. I am aware that President Chisano has worked tirelessly behind the scenes. I believe that Mozambique will continue to take a keen interest in these matters.

Lord Acton: My Lords, are the Government keeping under constant review the level of food aid to Zimbabweans, and will they increase it as and when they can?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are keeping that under constant review. A recent assessment identified that some 7.8 million Zimbabweans will now require food aid. Our humanitarian assistance has increased to 49 million, and my right honourable friend Clare Short has said that we will continue to do what we can to help the poor and vulnerable in Zimbabwe.


Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, between the two debates this afternoon, my noble friend Lord Bach will repeat a Statement on missile defence.

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Business of the House: Debates this Day

3.21 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Lord Henley and the Baroness Cumberlege set down for today shall each be limited to two-and-a-half hours.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I would like to make reference to item 2 of the report—

Noble Lords: Wrong business!

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

3.22 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I draw particular attention to three of the recommendations made in the report. First, I know that many Deputy Chairmen, members of the Procedure Committee and other Members of the House feel strongly on the question of attendance of debates of noble Lords who take part. A substantial number of speakers in recent debates have excused themselves from the greater part of the debate and, in particular, have been absent from the opening or closing speeches.

The report sets out the guidance in the Companion, which is clear and firm. Noble Lords who are unable to be present for the opening and closing speeches are expected to withdraw from the list. An apology at the start of the speech is insufficient.

Secondly, the Procedure Committee has noted an increasing tendency for irrelevant supplementary questions to be asked and answered. The report reminds the House that supplementary questions should be confined to the subject of the original question and that Ministers should not answer irrelevant questions.

Thirdly, the Procedure Committee has noted recent instances of Back-Bench interventions on Statements which are far from brief. With a 20-minute limit on Back-Bench questions and answers, long interventions and replies are unfair to others who may wish to speak.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 26) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

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Following is the report referred to:

    1. Relevance of supplementary questions and answers

    The Committee has noted an increasing tendency for irrelevant supplementary questions to he asked and answered. We remind the House of the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders (paragraph 4.96):

    "Supplementary questions should be confined to the subject of the original question, and ministers should not answer irrelevant questions."

    2. Attendance by speakers in debates

    The Committee has also observed since the start of this session a frequent disregard of the customs of the House in relation to attendance at debate. These are clearly set out in paragraphs 4.23 to 4.25 of the Companion to the Standing orders:

    "4.23 Members of the House taking part in a debate are expected to attend the greater part of that debate. It is considered discourteous for Members not to be present for the opening speeches, for at least the speech before and that following their own, and for the winding-up speeches. Members who become aware in advance that they are unlikely to be able to stay until the end of a debate should remove their names from the list of speakers. Ministers may decide not to answer, orally or in writing, points made by a speaker who does not stay to hear the minister's closing speech.

    4.24 There are reasons for these customs. Members who have missed the speeches before their own will not know what has already been said and so points may be repeated or missed. Members who leave soon after speaking are lacking in courtesy to others, who may wish to question, or reply to, points they have raised. Debate may degenerate into a series of set speeches if speakers do not attend throughout.

    4.25 It is, however, recognised that some Members may have commitments related to the judicial or committee work of the House which may prevent them from being able to attend as much of the debate as might otherwise be expected."

    Recently, some speakers have not only failed to stay for "the greater part" of a debate but have been absent during the opening or closing speeches. We remind the House that this is contrary to well-established custom and that Lords who find themselves unable to stay until the end of a debate should normally withdraw their names from the list, and not simply apologise when beginning their speeches.

    3. Length of Interventions on statements

    The Companion to the Standing Orders (paragraph 4.81) States: "Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate".

    The Committee has noted recent instances of interventions from backbenchers which are far from brief. We remind the House that, with a twenty-minute limit on backbench questions and answers, long interventions and long replies are unfair to others who may wish to speak.

    4. Time limit for submitting Private Notice Questions

    At present a Private Notice Question has to be submitted to the Leader of the House before 12 noon, but before 10 a.m. on a day when the House sits before 1 p.m. This means that the earlier time limit now applies on Thursdays when the House sits at 11 a.m. even when Starred Questions are not taken until 3 p.m.

    "Accordingly we recommend that the earlier time limit should apply only on days when Starred Questions (if any) are to be taken before 1 p.m.

    5. Time for presentation of bills

    Another consequence of the new arrangements for Thursday sittings is that, under Standing Order 42(3), bills can no longer be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon. That paragraph is as follows:

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    "(3) Bills may be presented either at the beginning or end of Public Business. Bills brought from the House of Commons may be read the First time at any convenient time during Public Business."

    We recommend that the Standing Order should be amended by the addition of a new second sentence: "On Thursdays Bills may also be presented after Starred Questions in the afternoon."

    6. The Companion to the Standing Orders

    The Committee has approved the publication of a new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders to take account of significant changes since the publication of the 18th edition in October 2000. The changes agreed by the House on 24 July 2002 on the basis of the Report of the Leader's Group on the Working Practices of the House and the 5th Report from this Committee, Session 2001–02, were for a trial period of two sessions. The changes will be incorporated in the new edition, with footnotes to show that they are for a trial period.

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