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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28th October 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

Zimbabwe: UK Policy

2.36 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships' House and at the request of my noble friend Lord Blaker who is indisposed, I beg leave to put the Question in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what recent changes there have been in their policy towards Zimbabwe.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, our policy towards Zimbabwe has not changed. We want a democratically accountable government who respect human rights and the rule of law. We are working with our EU and Commonwealth partners and other countries in southern Africa to bring that about, while providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe. Last week, the United Kingdom contributed a further £5 million to the United Nations World Food Programme's emergency appeal for food aid for Zimbabwe. That brings to £62 million our total of humanitarian assistance to that country since September 2001.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. What protests have Her Majesty's Government sought to make, and in what form, at the most recent arrest of the directors of the Daily News as part of a programme of suppressing free speech in Zimbabwe? What protests are to be made at the evidence from the Human Rights Watch report that food is being used for political ends and that the Grain Marketing Board is rotten through and through, distorting the distribution of food? Finally, is there any truth in the report that Mr Mugabe has been taken ill and flown to South Africa and that Mr Mnangagwa has taken over or is about to take over in his place?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have made it clear: the Foreign Secretary has issued two statements condemning the Government of Zimbabwe's attack on the free and independent media. As your Lordships may know, after a six-week ban, the administrative court ruled in favour of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe on 24th October. The following day, the Daily News was published with the headline, "We Are Back". Sadly, on 26th October, 18 Daily News employees were arrested. Yes, the Foreign Secretary has made a protest.

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In relation to the diversion of food, alluded to by the noble Lord, the World Food Programme has raised that issue. On the question about the health of the President, Robert Mugabe, a foreign affairs spokesperson—Mr Ronnie Mamoepa—has denied the report. He has emphasised that the Government and High Commission of Zimbabwe are in a better position than the media to know whether Mr Mugabe is in the country. I understand that the Zimbabwean Government therefore deny the reports in circulation.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, are there not grounds for thinking that time is at last running out for Mugabe, even though reports of his ill health, unfortunately, are exaggerated? Does the noble Baroness think that the United Nations should be developing contingency plans for a massive increase in aid should there be a transitional government which we could support and which would lead to free and fair elections?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that we have hoped for a considerable period that time is running out for Mr Mugabe. I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that I hope time is running out because the people of Zimbabwe want to see the back of a truly terrible leader, but not necessarily through any illness that Mr Mugabe is suffering. However, perhaps my feelings on that point are not quite as nice as that.

As regards the other point raised by the noble Lord, we have tried to obtain consensus in the United Nations around the issue. As the noble Lord will concede, we have found it very difficult to do so. When we last tried, five members of the Security Council voted for a no-action Motion. If we thought that we could obtain consensus, we would again be pressing on that issue. It is to be hoped that the latest developments—certainly the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his noble friend's Question about the clamp-down on the media—will concentrate minds.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does she accept that such is the collapse of the structures of good order in Zimbabwe that we are into a moment of the naked abuse of power? The effect of that is corrupting on all institutions and, if I dare say so, even on some of the leadership of the Churches in Zimbabwe at present. Given the Prime Minister's priority for Africa in this Parliament, what plans have the Government and our international partners in place for the situation when the present regime in Zimbabwe collapses and we face the possibility of a new order?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, throughout the whole unhappy episode, we have tried to keep our lines open to the Opposition in Zimbabwe. But the noble Lord will be aware of the difficulties suffered by Mr Tsvangirai and the trial. We have also kept our lines open to trade unions in Zimbabwe. Through humanitarian assistance, we have made it

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clear that our quarrel is, in no sense, with the people of Zimbabwe, but with the appalling way in which they are being led.

In the longer term, we hope to see the back of this regime. Her Majesty's Government have—not just bilaterally, but through the multi-lateral means open to them through the EU and the Commonwealth—kept our lines open to the Opposition, to the trade unions and to the very many people, including the Churches, who will be able to do something to step into the breach when we see the back of the regime.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, how would the noble Baroness assess the effectiveness of the policies which Her Majesty's Government have been pursuing in terms of influencing the behaviour of the ZANU-PF regime?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, our policy has been consistent and effective. If the sole criterion by which the noble Viscount wishes to judge the policy of Her Majesty's Government is the effect it has had on Mr Mugabe's regime, then no doubt he will think that it has not been effective. But I am bound to say to him that one of the problems is that nothing seems to affect Mr Mugabe's regime. It is not affected by the imposition of travel sanctions on which we think that we have established a strong position, along with our colleagues in the European Union. We believe that our sanctions are biting. On 19th October, the Standard newspaper pointed out that, for example, Zimbabwe's entire fleet of Hawk fighter jets has been grounded because Britain had frozen the parts for those aeroplanes. Further, we have taken action through the Commonwealth Heads of Government.

The noble Viscount should not be led into thinking that what we have done has not been effective. It has; and it is hoped that, through patience and the constant application of those sanctions, we shall see the back of this regime.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, given the closure of the Daily News, which we all regret, can the Minister confirm, without giving too much away, that Her Majesty's Government are doing something to provide alternative sources of news for the Zimbabwean people? Surely this repression is one of the major weapons being used by Mr Mugabe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, given the High Court ruling in Zimbabwe, I would suggest to noble Lords that the closure of the Daily News is now a matter which is illegal. The administration has now moved against its own courts and I understand that legal advice is being taken not only by those arrested, but also by the directors, who went voluntarily to the police on this issue. Of course we must look at other ways through which to get a message into the media, but I stress to noble Lords that we believe that this is now a matter for

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the Zimbabwean courts to address in light of the harassment that has been illegally conducted by the government.

Illegal Meat Imports

2.45 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many seizures of illegal meat imports Customs and Excise has made since the action plan, and how many have resulted in a conviction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, full-year figures are published by Defra in the Annual Review of Controls on Imports of Animal Products in July of each year. The figures published by Defra for total seizures of imported goods by all agencies in 2001–02 were 2,053, and in 2002–03, 7,819. As regards convictions, and further to my Written Answer of 24th September (Official Report, 6/10/03; col. WA 34), Customs and Excise has not recorded any convictions for illegal meat smuggling since 11th April.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that, on 19th June this year, some 33 tons of illegal meat were seized in the Tower Hamlets area? Bearing in mind that, in answer to a Written Question I tabled in March of this year, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, stated that:

    "We have made clear that prosecutions are an important aspect of deterrence which we would like to see used where there is clear evidence of a serious breach in the rules".—[Official Report, 4/3/03; WA 106.],

why have the Government no stomach for prosecuting the illegal importation of meat?

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