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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the report of the Africa Commission. How
 
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far can the emphasis on good governance, which the Africa Commission, and NePAD before it, contained, be carried through in the case of Zimbabwe? What are the lessons that we must learn about trying to promote good governance in Africa when we have such an appalling example of bad governance, on which it seems difficult to persuade Zimbabwe's neighbours to exert sufficient pressure?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are many countries in Africa where democracy is starting to take root and where we are seeing the emergence of good governance. But whichever part of the world one looks at regarding the growth of democracy and good governance, the noble Lord will know that that takes time. The noble Lord has told me in relation to other parts of the world that one size does not fit all. It does not, but that does not mean that the ambitions for good governance and democracy should not be the same.

We work where we can with the partners that we have. We have good partners in some parts of southern Africa. We have the statement from COSATU about what has happened in Zimbabwe in recent days. We have the statements from other African leaders. What we do not have and we desperately need is the consensus in southern Africa to say something robust and uncompromising about the way in which Mr Mugabe is running that country.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is it not the case that within this House there is no disagreement whatever about the tragic situation in Zimbabwe? It is a matter of extreme regret that the noble Lord who asked this Private Notice Question should have introduced such a sour note in trying to show differences within this House which do not exist? Does he not realise that he is playing exactly into the hands of President Mugabe, who will say, "Look, they cannot even agree in the House of Lords about what happens"?

We know for certain that there are serious doubts about the Zimbabwean election. In fact there seems to be no doubt that the election was rigged. Does that make a difference? We have said in this House time and time again that we want free, democratic elections in Zimbabwe. We have said time and time again that pressure must be maintained on Mugabe and his regime. So it must. But to make that effective, we must work with as many international partners as we can and not simply condemn President Mbeki or whoever.

If the people of Zimbabwe are to have some decent future, we must learn to work together to bring that about.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes, we must work with the partners that we can find and my noble friend is quite right. I do not think that there is any disagreement in your Lordships' House. I do not believe that there is a disagreement about our analysis of what is happening in Zimbabwe. I remind my noble counterpart that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did issue a statement last week on this matter. Maybe the
 
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noble Lord missed it, but a statement was issued, although it was not offered in the House. None the less a robust statement was forthcoming.

But the whole question of how we handle this is one of working in partnerships. The more that the Opposition try to chisel away at the Government over this matter, the more they give comfort to Mr Mugabe and his henchmen. Surely the noble Lord can see that.

Business of the House: Dissolution of Parliament

3.18 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the 10 minutes are up for the procedure that we have just concluded. I wish to raise a little matter of some changed business for the rest of the week, which, with permission, I should like to spell out. A sheet available in the Printed Paper Office will provide the details, so if anyone were minded to take notes there would be no need.

As the House may have noticed, it has been suggested that there should be a Dissolution of Parliament and a general election on 5 May. The consequences of that for our business are considerable for the rest of the week and are as follows.

The House will meet tomorrow at 2.30 p.m., as is usual, will meet at 11 a.m. on Thursday and, if necessary, there will be a further meeting on Friday. Parliament will be prorogued either on Thursday or Friday, depending upon the progress of business. Dissolution will take place by proclamation on Monday, 11 April. That does not involve us at all; it happens in a way that has worked over the centuries and I trust that it will on this occasion. The general election will take place on 5 May. The new Parliament will be summoned on Wednesday, 11 May, for the election of a Speaker and swearing in in the Commons and for swearing in here. The State Opening will be on Tuesday, 17 May.

I turn to the consequences for today's, tomorrow's and Thursday's business. Today, we shall proceed with business as on the Order Paper. There is one additional piece of routine information, which your Lordships will have seen on the Annunciator. With permission, a Statement on postal voting will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Ashton immediately after, following my Statement, my noble friend the Leader has moved her Motion concerning a change to the Standing Orders. Then we shall continue with the Committee stage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. Extensive discussions have taken place with the usual channels, as is normal on these occasions, and it is expected that we shall be able to conclude the Committee stage of that Bill today.

So far as concerns tomorrow and Thursday, the following business has been agreed. First, in order for the decks to be cleared, I am happy to say that my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Drayson have both kindly agreed to withdraw their debates tomorrow. I am sure that the whole House will wish to record its appreciation.
 
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In the light of that, tomorrow's business will begin, as usual, with Prayers and Starred Questions. My noble friend the Leader will then move the customary business Motion, which, among other things, enables more than one stage of a Bill to be taken on the same day. We shall then proceed to the Third Reading of the Railways Bill, the remaining stages of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, the Committee and remaining stages of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, and the Committee and remaining stages of the Drugs Bill. We shall then complete the Committee stage and remaining stages of the Gambling Bill. We shall conclude tomorrow's business with the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 2) Rules 2005, which is already scheduled to be on the Order Paper.

Tomorrow, we may also take the Report stage and Third Reading of the School Transport Bill, but that depends on discussions and negotiations, which are still proceeding. Of course, as noble Lords can judge from that list, the House may sit beyond 10 o'clock tomorrow night. The good news is that the Refreshment Department, with its customary alacrity, has agreed to provide what is required in the Dining Room.

As I said earlier, Thursday will begin at 11 o'clock with Prayers and Starred Questions. We shall then have the Second Reading and remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill and the Appropriation Bill. We shall then consider Commons amendments to the Disability Discrimination Bill, the Education Bill and the Inquiries Bill, which have already passed through this House, and any other messages that may be received from the Commons. As usual, there will be a speakers' list for the Second Reading of the Finance Bill and that will be put up in the Whips' Office immediately.

Finally, the Clerk of the Parliaments has agreed that the Public Bill Office will accept amendments to any Bill in advance and will also relax as much as possible the deadlines for tabling amendments. Tonight, amendments may be tabled up to 6 p.m. As I am sure the House will understand and appreciate, it is difficult for us all to reach agreement on these matters, but I hope that this business Statement commends itself to the House.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as the Government Chief Whip said, some hard and constructive work has taken place this morning at both ends of the building and, through that, we have achieved at least a substantial measure of agreement on the outstanding Bills. That is reflected in the business announcement, which the Government Chief Whip has just made and which we support. We have a great deal of work to do in the remaining time this week but we believe that, with the good will that has been available in the discussions, we can, indeed, achieve that aim.

Lord Roper: My Lords, I agree that in general there has been wide consensus on the programme of work which is set out before us in the Business Statement that has just been made by the Captain of the
 
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Gentlemen-at-Arms. However, on certain important Bills—in particular, the Charities Bill—a great deal of hard work was done in Grand Committee, and we on these Benches much regret that it has not been possible for that Bill to reach the statute book in this Session.


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