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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to put on the record that of the 7,000 people from Zimbabwe who applied for asylum in 2002, only 45 returned voluntarily at the expense of the IOM in 2003. The vast majority of them, in spite of the fact that they are left destitute at the end of the asylum process, prefer that to going back to Zimbabwe.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, that indicates the strength of their feeling and their fears but of course it is a shocking situation. It is one that the Government should look at again very carefully indeed.

Some say that we can do nothing. That has not been the view of your Lordships tonight at all but that view exists. I argue that the constraints on action that were believed to exist a few years back do not exist in the 21st century. It is a different place where everyone is demanding different standards of behaviour, different moral standards, different standards of observance of human rights, and that is a good thing. This is part of the global network. It is not just a remote country we can quietly ignore while we get into the big action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Zimbabwe is part of the global network. When one part gets infected, the virus affects us all. I believe that we should stand with our Commonwealth colleagues and with our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia and Europe in condemning the cruel inhumanity that is being perpetrated in Zimbabwe and work night and day to see that the Zimbabwean people cease to have to cry for their beloved country and can rise and live again.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I join everyone who has congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on having introduced this very important debate and on the way in which he did so. He should be congratulated also on the range and quality of the

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speeches that he has encouraged tonight. I send my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, who would have added his experienced voice to our debate tonight had he not been indisposed.

I hope that I shall be able to respond to many of the questions put by noble Lords in the body of my contribution. If, however, I do not respond in my allotted time to any outstanding questions, I shall, of course, write to noble Lords.

I should like to begin by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that the Government's attention remains closely focused on Zimbabwe. The debate to which he referred in his opening remarks is for the usual channels to take up. Our main aim is clear. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said on 14 January, in answer to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that the Government's objective,

    "remains a return to democratic governance, prosperity and the rule of law in Zimbabwe".—[Official Report, 14/1/04; col. 553.]

That is not the view of a government who are not completely engaged in seeking a solution to this crisis.

If I may, I shall begin with a short overview of the situation in Zimbabwe as the Government see it. As several noble Lords have emphasised, the situation in Zimbabwe remains grim—a stain on the African dream, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, so eloquently put it. The World Food Programme's estimate that around 6 million people will need food aid during the January to April pre-harvest period—and this figure could rise further as new assessments are made—is a disgrace to the entire international community. I shall address, in due course, the measures that we are taking to help the people of Zimbabwe and to try to persuade the Government of Zimbabwe to change their disastrous policies.

The economy was referred to by many noble Lords. It remains in a dire state. Official inflation remains at some 600 per cent. Unemployment is 70 to 80 per cent. A much publicised anti-corruption drive has begun. The most high profile arrest has been ZANU-PF MP Philip Chiyangwa after he allegedly interfered with a Reserve Bank investigation into corruption in an asset management firm in which he allegedly has substantial interests. If the Zimbabwean authorities are genuinely moving against corruption, that would be most welcome. But it will take more than one or two arrests to convince the watching world that anything substantial has changed.

Political violence and oppression continue. One person was killed in a ZANU-PF attack on Movement for Democratic Change supporters in Mashonaland this month. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum has reported that during the January to November 2003 period, there were nine cases of murder, almost 500 cases of torture and over 500 cases of unlawful arrest. The figures speak for themselves.

Noble Lords may also have read of the horrific murder of the financial director of a tea plantation and there has recently been the first murder of a commercial farmer in 18 months. Those particular attacks do not appear to be politically motivated; rather, they are a tragic consequence of the crisis in

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Zimbabwe. While crime against whites in Zimbabwe tends to receive international attention, we should never forget that the great majority of the victims of ZANU-PF rule are black Zimbabweans, whose cases never hit the headlines. We are of course keeping our travel advice under constant review.

The MDC has been the subject of numerous threats and attacks. The treason trial of the leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has recommenced. It would be wrong for me to comment on the details while the trial is in progress, but I do not believe that it helps reconciliation in Zimbabwe. Neither does the state's decision to go ahead with those charges suggest that Mr Mugabe is seeking to create a climate in which dialogue can go ahead.

Regarding talks between the two parties, we understand that Robert Mugabe told President Mbeki, when he visited in December, that his party was committed to carrying forward the process of dialogue with the MDC. However, there appears to have been no progress since that discussion and police raided MDC headquarters on Friday 23 January. If there was a genuine desire on the part of Mugabe for talks, that would of course be welcome, as my noble friend Lord Hughes said. We have yet to see real evidence of that commitment. We need to see it.

Press harassment has been mentioned by many noble Lords. Harassment continues—the Daily News, the country's only independent daily newspaper, has been off the streets for several months. It finally managed to bring out an edition in Zimbabwe on 22 January, after winning five court orders saying it could publish. The Government returned to the High Court on 23 January in a fresh attempt to stop publication.

Regarding the vital subject of humanitarian aid, referred to so movingly by my noble friend Lord Acton, Robert Mugabe's policies have proved a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe—a matter also raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and others. We are trying to help pick up the pieces. Since September 2001 we have spent 62 million on humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, 20 million of which has been spent during the present financial year. We are grateful for the appreciation of noble Lords on our humanitarian efforts. We will be providing further funds for emergency feeding and HIV/AIDS programmes in the coming weeks. DfID is working with the World Food Programme and other UN agencies to ensure that resources are targeted on the most vulnerable. Our highest priorities are households with chronically ill adults, those headed by children or the disabled and those without access to land. In addition to UK contributions to UN feeding programmes, DfID's own supplementary feeding programmes are providing food to over 1 million people every month.

The Government are aware of concerns that food aid could be used for political purposes—a matter that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, and others. However, I assure the House that distribution of international food aid, including all the food contributed by the UK, is closely monitored and

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the World Food Programme has agreed satisfactory distribution arrangements in a memorandum of understanding with the Zimbabwean Government. In recent months there have been no significant cases of political interference with food deliveries.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe gives enormous cause for concern, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, powerfully set out. A quarter of Zimbabweans aged 15 to 49 are infected with HIV/AIDS. We are spending 26 million on HIV/AIDS prevention programmes over five years to help tackle that crisis. It will be delivered through para-statal organisations and rural health clinics.

UN sanctions—binding on all member states—are the most effective option when considering targeted measures, but would require consensus in the Security Council. I am sorry, but despite the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his commitment to the issue, that is not an option at this stage. The UN Security Council's focus is on other international peace and security issues, despite the impact that we know the crisis is having on the wider African region. It remains the case that Zimbabwe's neighbours are not calling in the UN for wider UN intervention.

As noble Lords are aware, the EU has for the past two years tabled a resolution on Zimbabwe at the UN Commission on Human Rights. On both occasions, the resolutions fell to a no-action motion supported by, among others, all the members of the African group. However, if there is no improvement in the human rights situation in Zimbabwe by the time the UN Commission on Human Rights meets this year, I hope to see another resolution tabled. As we know, the commission meets in March and April.

We would gladly move a UN Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe if we thought it would succeed, but doing that and failing would provide succour to Mugabe and his supporters and we are not in the business of doing that. Five members of the Security Council voted for the 2003 no-action motion at the UNHCR and it is difficult to see them voting for a Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe after that action in the UNHCR.

I will now move on to what we are trying to do to persuade the Zimbabwean Government to change their disastrous policy and what our action is at European level. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made a pertinent point about the danger of this being seen as only a bilateral issue and therefore playing into Mugabe's propaganda hands. We must always be on our guard in that respect. However, the EU has imposed targeted measures against Mugabe and 78 leading members of ZANU-PF. These include a travel ban and an asset freeze. There is also an arms embargo. The Americans and others have introduced similar measures, as noble Lords are aware.

The EU measures are due for renewal next month and we are looking for ways to strengthen them. We are seriously looking with our EU partners at ways of maintaining their effectiveness and relevance, while not hurting the people of Zimbabwe. But one thing we will not argue for is general trade sanctions. That

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would be a propaganda gift to the Zimbabwe Government's claim that we are trying to undermine their country. No trade measures we could undertake would have the same impact on Zimbabwe's economy as ZANU-PF's own disastrous policies.

Implications for the withdrawal from the Commonwealth have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, shared with us his interesting and experienced observations on the role of African leaders post-CHOGM. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister argued at CHOGM that it was inconceivable that Zimbabwe could be readmitted to the Councils of the Commonwealth until we had seen concrete evidence of a return to democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law—the very principles on which the Commonwealth was founded. I am glad to say that the heads of government agreed by consensus to continue indefinitely Zimbabwe's suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth at CHOGM in December.

They also agreed to the issue of a statement on Zimbabwe, giving the lie to Mugabe's claim that suspension was a UK-led white conspiracy against black Africa. Mugabe has now increased his country's isolation by withdrawing from the Commonwealth. The ties of affection between the people of Zimbabwe and the rest of the Commonwealth remain and I look forward to the day, as I am sure do all noble Lords, when a democratic Zimbabwe is welcomed back. In the mean time, we will continue to work with our international partners to bring about the restoration of good governance and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

The subject of cricket was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever and Lord Howell of Guildford, and my noble friends Lord Hughes of Woodside and Lord Acton. Whether or not to tour Zimbabwe is a matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board. However, noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has written to the board clearly pointing out the situation in Zimbabwe and suggesting that it may wish to consider whether a high-profile tour at this time is compatible with the international community's isolation of Zimbabwe. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

Noble Lords may have picked up on the discussion in another place this week when my honourable friend Mr Mullin, the Minister for Africa, said that the Government would prefer that the England cricket team did not go to Zimbabwe. But at the end of the day, it is up to the ECB. I understand that it is meeting later this week and we await the outcome of its deliberations with interest.

Many noble Lords have asked me questions and I shall get through them as quickly as I can. I shall make sure that noble Lords whose questions are not reached receive a written reply. Many noble Lords have asked whether we are doing enough; could not Britain do more; could we not try, try and try again; and could we not put more urgency into the problem? I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, spoke about quiet diplomacy and it being a little louder.

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I refute the charge that the Government have been dragging their feet on the crisis in Zimbabwe. We continue to work closely and robustly with our EU and Commonwealth partners to bring about a return to democratic government in Zimbabwe as regards human rights and the rule of law. The Commonwealth has stood firm. When its leaders met in Nigeria last month, and they included our Prime Minister, they agreed to the indefinite suspension of Zimbabwe following its failure to meet basic Commonwealth standards of good governance.

The EU is also engaged. It has issued a number of statements condemning the Mugabe regime for its repeated attacks on trades union and civil society leaders and on the independent media. The EU has continued to enforce its target of measures against the ZANU-PF leadership and to look at ways of making these measures as effective and robust as possible. At the same time the UK has provided a sizeable programme of humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe.

We are the largest cash donor and, after the United States, the largest bilateral aid donor to Zimbabwe. Since September 2001 when the current crisis began, the UK has provided 62 million in humanitarian assistance, as I said earlier.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked me about the end game. That was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. We stand ready to work with any new administration in Zimbabwe which has been freely and democratically elected by the Zimbabwean people. With partners, we are already planning for a time when we will be able to re-engage with Zimbabwe and assist with its reconstruction. It is premature to speculate on the scale of future UK support, but we would be certain to play a leading role in helping to rebuild Zimbabwe when the rule of law and representative government are restored. Our record of providing over 500 million in development assistance to Zimbabwe since independence shows that our commitment to Zimbabwe is for the long haul.

I was asked by noble Lords about President Mbeki and his role and what the Government feel about it. Following his visit to Harare on 18 December he has stated that he met both Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai and that a formal process of dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition is now imminent. We hope that that is the case. We have made it clear for some time now that we see such a process of dialogue as the vital first step towards restoring democratic governance in Zimbabwe. But we have seen no evidence that the parties are moving in that direction. We hope that both President Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo will continue in their efforts to get the parties re-engaged and that we soon see concrete evidence of that progress.

Noble Lords asked me about extending the EU sanctions to business people. We note that the Movement for Democratic Change visiting the European Parliament this week called for EU sanctions to be extended also to business people. We

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remain open to the argument that any individual who is demonstrably responsible for the suppression of human rights might at some stage be added to the list.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked me about the Grain Marketing Board stockpiling and withholding food. It is very worrying if the Zimbabwean Government are using food in this way. But that government signed the memorandum of understanding with the World Food Programme last year agreeing to its principles on distribution. Ultimately, of course, we have no control over the food that Mr Mugabe's regime buys in.

I have come the end of my time and will answer noble Lords' further questions in writing.

The Government's desire is to see a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe. To that end, we are working robustly with our international partners. We may not yet have achieved that aim, but we have helped to provide humanitarian aid to half the population of Zimbabwe, in which this country can take great pride. We continue to keep the pressure on ZANU-PF and engage with all those working for change in Zimbabwe. It will come, and Britain intends to help Zimbabweans build their lives again.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I am sure that it will cheer up my noble friend Lord Blaker when he reads it. I hope that it will also give some comfort to those suffering in Zimbabwe, who, as my noble friend Lord Goschen said, will be closely following this debate.

I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. Each speaker has a long record of not letting Zimbabwe slip off the agenda, and it is to be hoped that all will continue to speak out. All speakers would agree with the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that the situation is very dangerous and getting worse. There were differences about how to help resolve that situation, but all suggestions were constructive and thoughtful. Finally, I thank the Minister for constructively and resolutely addressing the various questions that have been fired at her. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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