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House of Lords

Thursday, 24 June 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.


Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Zimbabwean state-run newspaper, the Herald, ran an article on 8 June stating that the government would be nationalising all productive farmland and replacing title deeds with 99-year leases. The Zimbabwean Government have clarified that this policy would apply only to land acquired under the fast-track land programme.

Until there is more information and clarity from the Government of Zimbabwe regarding how this proposed nationalisation is to be implemented, it is not possible to determine fully the consequences of this new policy.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. It is sadly clear, is it not, that the Government feel more or less impotent in the face of this increasingly ugly regime? Does the noble Baroness agree that the situation clearly demands not nationalisation of land, which will make the food situation still worse in Zimbabwe, but more internationalisation of pressure on the regime to get rid of Mugabe and to improve its ways? Is the noble Baroness aware that Mugabe has now hatched a deal with the American DIMON Corporation to sell tobacco in exchange for maize to cover up his food problems? Can she confirm that we are in close touch with the American authorities about putting an end to this illegal racket, which breaks every sanction?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I could not agree more in regard to the importance of internationalising this issue. That is precisely why we have worked through the European Union, through our partners in Africa—particular through those in the SADC region and the AU—through the UN and more generally. We are seeking to ensure, through the Commonwealth and other avenues, that pressure is put on the Zimbabwe regime.

I am aware of the rumours with respect to Zimbabwe selling tobacco in exchange for maize. We are in regular touch with our partners in the United States on this issue and will continue to be so.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not the real problem that much of the land which has been seized from
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commercial farmers is not being cultivated and has reverted to bush? Have there been discussions with SADC about Mugabe's refusal to collaborate with the WFP and the FAO in assessing the crop production and the likely food needs—particularly in the light of the snub to the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, who was in the region assessing the humanitarian needs, and the report by ZimVAC, an agency which includes representatives of the Zimbabwean Government, which found that 2.3 million people are estimated to be in need of extra maize in the 2004–05 season?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble, Lord Avebury, is right. James Morris, who runs the World Food Programme, was in the region and visited every country. However, he did not go to Zimbabwe because he was told that no Minister—nor the President—would be available to meet him. We are dealing here with a government who are prepared to starve their own people as a political tool. I very much hope that SADC leaders and others in the region will bring continuing pressure to bear on a situation that is rapidly becoming a nightmare.

Lord Acton: My Lords, has South Africa shown its hand recently on these matters, particularly in relation to land nationalisation and the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the UN being unable to assess the amount of food required for the next season?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, South Africa has carried out an enormous amount of work behind the scenes. In particular it has tried to foster dialogue between the opposition MDC and the Government of Zimbabwe. As to the question of land, following the report in the Herald, South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister made some comments, which were reported. But my noble friend needs to remember that we have been trying to get the Government of Zimbabwe to see sense on the issue of land reform. We are not against land reform, but we want to see a sustainable process which ensures that the population of Zimbabwe can continue to be fed.

Lord Elton: My Lords, has the noble Baroness heard on the BBC the series of reports from inside Zimbabwe? Is it not the case that this goes far beyond the question of land and into the problems of AIDS, the torture of sitting MPs and the abuse of their families?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have heard the reports. I heard the one this morning which focused on HIV/AIDS. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is right: there is not only an issue in relation to land but also in relation to the economic collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and the impact that HIV/AIDS is having in the country, which has one of the highest levels of HIV infection in the world. There is continuing violence,
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not only against the opposition MDC but against others, who are afraid to speak out because they fear a violent response.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the SADC countries bringing continued pressure to bear. Are they bringing any pressure to bear and, if so, what is it?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, SADC has made repeated attempts, not just with Mr Mugabe but with other members of his government, to bring to their attention the impact that the ruinous policies are having on Zimbabwe and the region as a whole. There is an outflow of people from Zimbabwe to neighbouring countries, and this pressure has been going on for some time. The noble Lord may recall that when President Mulusi, for example, chaired SADC, he made a number of visits to Zimbabwe precisely to bring these issues to the attention of the government there.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, as an addition to the previous question, do the Zimbabwean Government take any notice whatever of pressure or of discussions that they might have with any other governments?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there is absolutely no evidence that the Government of Zimbabwe take any notice of pressure put by anyone at all.

Iraq: National Security Council

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, before I answer the Question, I express sympathy and condolence for those who lost loved ones or who were injured in the attacks in Baquba, Ramadi and Mosul this morning.

In his letter of 5 June to the president of the United Nations Security Council, the Iraqi Prime Minister designate, Dr Allawi, outlined how a consultation with the multinational force will work after 30 June. One means will be through the Ministerial Committee for National Security—the MCNS—composed of key Iraqi Ministers, which will set the broad framework for Iraqi security policy. The MNF commander and his deputy will be invited as required by the Iraqi
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Prime Minister. Currently, a British lieutenant-general, John McColl, is the deputy MNF commander in Iraq.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I am sure the whole House will join her in the sympathy she has expressed for the victims of the latest upsurge of violence in Iraq.

A new chapter starts next week. As I understand it—and I think the noble Baroness has just confirmed it—the Security Council is the body in Baghdad which will tackle major military questions. The answer to these questions is crucial for British troops, whether or not they are actively involved, as we have seen in the handling of Fallujah and Najaf. Therefore, is it not reasonable to hope that, as the letter she quoted allows, Britain should have, in this new chapter, in one way or another, an influence on these matters which is in proportion to the effort we are making?

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