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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no, in my experience the advice of senior civil servants has never been inadequate. I say that without any sense of overt or covert irony. It is for civil servants to give advice, as set out in the ministerial and Civil Service codes. Ministers are obliged to pay careful attention to that advice but, at the end of the day, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said in the title of his book, Ministers decide.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in the light of that question, the House will be aware that there is great concern in the House, particularly over the way in which the change in the role of the Lord Chancellor was handled. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us whether the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Secretary to the Cabinet were consulted? Does he recognise that, at this time when apologies are very fashionable, this House perhaps deserves some apology?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness was not here on the occasions when I expressed regret and apology. I am not sure that we can endlessly revisit the question of apology. On the first available occasion I said that I regretted the discourtesy, if your Lordships felt disapproving, and I apologised for it. I do not think that I can apologise more than once. I am sure that is good for the soul, but it does not seem to work for me.

It is wrong and invidious to specify any individual civil servant who might have given advice. Ministers had regard to the ministerial code and they came to a judgment. Some of your Lordships believe that the judgment was wrong, and that is your Lordships' prerogative.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I believe that the noble and learned Lord said on two occasions that civil servants were consulted about the announcements. Were they consulted before the decisions were taken?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, was advice tendered that it needed legislation to deal with the office of the Lord Chancellor and that it would take at least a year for that to take place?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was not privy to any particular advice about legislation or a legislative timetable, but there is no doubt that it was well appreciated that some degree of legislative change would be required—not least because, as my noble and learned friend points out by necessary implication,

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some of the Lord Chancellor's functions are statutory and could therefore only be changed either by Order in Council or by statute.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, one might come to the simple conclusion that, whoever is consulted or not consulted, when major changes in policy are mixed up with the personalities involved in a reshuffle, a government will end with egg on their face.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord has experience of that particular scenario, but I would not want to intrude unnecessarily into private grief. The fact is that I have yet to hear any dissent from the policy announcements; namely, an independent supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission. Those are the policy aspects. I accept that it is good summer sport to complain about presentation, but I urge your Lordships to go to the substance and not stay flicking about the surface.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, when something goes wrong so badly as requires the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to apologise, does he think it is worth looking at the decision-making process which led up to the announcement? Am I alone in having slightly lost the plot in terms of what the nature of the relationship is between civil servants, Ministers, special advisers, special special advisers and all the many bodies in the Cabinet Office—the Prime Minister's Reform Strategy Group, the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit etcetera? I think that the Prime Minister recently said that he understood that it was possible to have too many targets. Does the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House think that it is also possible to have too many cooks in No. 10?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, said that he had lost the plot. I hope that is not true; otherwise, it would mean that Saatchi was not working.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that not even his skills in presentation—and we all know how considerable they are—are likely to allay in anything except the very long term the deep unease that this episode has caused?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope that it is not simply presentation but I recognise that there is deep unease about it. That, I am sure, will pass. What we need to focus on I respectfully suggest, consonant with what this House normally tries to do, is to see what the policy changes are and whether we approve of them or not. I gently repeat to your Lordships that I have heard no one suggest that we should not have an independent supreme court or that we should not have an independent judicial appointments commission. Those

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are extremely important constitutional changes and they constitute a devolution of power from an executive where they probably ought not to have been.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is an office holder of this House, will any legislation affecting his position and role be started in this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot possibly say that. Indeed, it would be presumptuous of me to try to pre-empt the conclusions of the Select Committee which was set up only a few days ago. We ought to pay careful attention to any such recommendations that it may bring forward.

Zimbabwe and Southern Africa

2.52 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the effect on neighbouring countries of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Zimbabwe crisis is damaging regional economies and has adversely affected their interest rates, inflation, foreign direct investment and tourism. A study by the Zimbabwe Research Institute in May estimated the total cost to the combined Southern African Development Community countries to have been at least 1.88 billion dollars at the end of 2002. Zimbabwe's neighbours are also suffering damage to local production from the influx of cheap Zimbabwean goods, unpaid Zimbabwean debt, an increase in largely unskilled migrants and the cross-border spread of foot and mouth disease.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, do the Government still agree with the assessment of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, that for every year of ruination in Zimbabwe it will take 10 years to recover? That is on the economic side. On the political side, does the noble Baroness believe that the African countries are sufficiently taking into account the fact that the longer they fail to live up to their obligations under the treaty for the African Union, NePAD and the SADC, to exercise peer pressure for human rights, good governance and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, the more that will lead to various treaties losing credibility and authority?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend the Secretary of State at DfID that the longer this goes on the more difficult it is for the African economies to recover. I mentioned Zimbabwe's unpaid debts and the effect that the crisis is having on tourism in the region as just two of the instances where matters are worsening. I was very glad

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to learn that the African Union meeting is due to take place in Mozambique on Thursday and Friday of this week. That will provide a further opportunity to sound out African opinion on prospects for inter-party talks. I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that my honourable friend Hilary Benn, the Minister of State at DfID, will attend that meeting in Maputo.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, only last week the Mayor of Harare was here pointing out the desperate need for food aid in both rural and urban areas. Can the noble Baroness assure us that the Government will be able, given their commitments elsewhere in the world at the moment, to maintain or increase their aid to Zimbabwe in the case of this particular crisis? Given the movement of refugees across the border out of Zimbabwe, can the noble Baroness give me an idea of the progress being made by DfID and the Foreign Office in terms of developing a strategy for the whole of Southern Africa?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have devoted some 51 million to feeding Zimbabwe's hungry people since September 2001. We have been taking part directly in feeding 1.5 million of Zimbabwe's hungry people. We are, of course, working with international partners to maintain the pressures for change. Obviously, we work with the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth. It is very important that, in doing all these things directly with aid, at the same time we reinforce that with pressure for a democratic solution. The Zimbabwe crisis is obviously producing a flow of refugees across its borders. One of the countries which is suffering is Botswana, which is having to repatriate around 1,000 Zimbabweans a week. South Africa's interior Minister claims that 3,000 Zimbabweans are being returned from South Africa this week. It is enormously important that we remain engaged with regional strategies to try to deal with the refugee issues.

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