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9.23 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has been dogged in his pursuit of the interests of those who served in various colonies throughout the time of the empire, and now particularly in the case of former public servants who served in the then Rhodesia. I share with him the fact that I am vice president of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association, and I can attest to the fact that he does valiant work in that direction. I could make the whole of my speech declaring an interest, which I will not do; rather I will focus on one area. In 1979, I was the Minister responsible for African affairs, and under the leadership of the Noble Lord, Lord Carrington, we had three months of negotiating day by day at Lancaster House. It was during those negotiations that all the parties agreed that the new constitution for an independent Zimbabwe would contain provisions entitling former civil servants and public service employees to pensions paid by the Zimbabwean Government.

It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord has said, that Her Majesty’s Government had no direct responsibility for public administration and the recruitment of staff in the then Rhodesia. The then Secretary of State for the colonies had that responsibility in most of the colonies, but not in Rhodesia. Equally, therefore, Her Majesty’s Government can claim that they have no legal obligation. That was fine so long as Zimbabwe’s economy was growing and expanding, but due to gross mismanagement and incompetence, we now see the condition of a failed state in Zimbabwe. There is rampant inflation, no foreign exchange, and a disastrous collapse in the value of the Zimbabwean dollar. The result is no payments whatever to the Crown servants who live in this country.

I therefore join the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in asking Her Majesty’s Government to look at this afresh in the light of totally changed circumstances

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and on their merits. We have moral, not legal, obligations to do something about this. I make three factual points to support this. First, we are a pragmatic nation. We have been pragmatic throughout our history, and it has always been disastrous when we have tried not to be. We must be pragmatic in this case. The empire evolved in different ways and in different forms. We can always argue that we are creating a precedent that we cannot afford, but I recall when, in my very early days as a new Member of the other place, a small number of us campaigned very strongly for a change in the position for former Crown servants in Aden and the former British Somaliland. After some campaigning, we managed, because there was no public officer’s agreement, to get the agreement of the Government that some locally recruited people and some expatriates from both those former colonies should in future receive pensions along the lines of those of other colonies. That was, if you like, a pragmatic solution to a problem that, on its merits, deserves support.

Secondly, we are talking about people who have served the Crown. It is very interesting that when independence was unilaterally declared on 11 November 1965, Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister of this country, said that it was the duty of public servants in Rhodesia to remain at their posts, to maintain order and essential services, and to take no oath of loyalty to the illegal Government. They were to continue to serve the Crown, and those of us who have a memory of those days will remember that Sir Humphrey Gibbs stayed there as the representative of the Queen.

In the later 1970s, I visited Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, to see how the scene was changing. However much I disagreed with the policies of Mr. Smith’s Government, I can say without hesitation that I was always very impressed by the quality of the civil servants and the administrators in that country, and by the level of service that they gave the then Government. They handed over to Mugabe a solid, competent Administration and Civil Service. As the noble Lord said, we must remember that, in 1923, Her Majesty’s Government decided that Rhodesia should become a responsible self-governing colony, with ultimate responsibility to the Crown through the governor.

The third, and last, factor that I would like the Minister to consider is the humanitarian aspect. We are now, in this disastrous situation in Zimbabwe, giving whatever humanitarian support we can through Her Majesty’s Government. But the people who have served the former Government and people of Rhodesia and who are living in this country without any pension are also suffering very badly. As the noble Lord said, the numbers are rapidly diminishing, so the cost itself is diminishing.

I appeal to the Minister and the Government to take an imaginative and humanitarian approach in view of the special circumstances that exist in that country today, and give support to these people for as long as Mugabe stays in his job or a replacement regime is unable or unwilling to fulfil the obligations that were provided for in the constitution.

Against the background of the Commonwealth conference, which is about to take place in Uganda, I hope that the Government are in consultation with the

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Commonwealth, drawing up a contingency plan to offer help and assistance to the people of Zimbabwe to rehabilitate themselves. In those circumstances, it would also be sensible to give assistance in some form to those valiant former public servants in recognition of the fact that the 1979 agreement is now not being fulfilled.

I should have said earlier that I congratulate the Minister on taking up his responsibilities and I hope that he will now be able to go away and consider seriously taking action on this important matter.

9.31 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I have no hesitation in supporting my noble friend Lord Waddington in his persistent, determined and just concern for the case of the Crown servants who worked in Rhodesia and who have been denied the pensions guaranteed under the 1980 independence constitution.

Each day at the beginning of our deliberations in this House, we pray that we may uphold the maintenance of justice. How can we listen to those words and yet deny basic justice to the servants of the Crown? Perhaps it is reasonable of me to remind noble Lords that Members of the other place have no hesitation in voting themselves large increases in salary with the resulting increase in their pensions. I know that the Minister would probably say that it is a contributory pension scheme. Yes, of course it is, but the net result is that they are improving their ultimate pension each time they vote themselves a salary increase. In addition, I am told that once an MP retires, his or her pension will be increased by precisely the same percentage increase pertaining to the salary voted by the MPs for themselves.

Compared with the plight of the loyal servants of the Crown who we are discussing, that is appalling. Is it fair? Does this fall within the phrase “the maintenance of justice”? Unlike public servants in this country, the Crown servants in Rhodesia did contribute to their pensions. That makes the attitude of Her Majesty's Government even more unacceptable. As my noble friend said, the amounts involved are minuscule in comparison with the overruns, mistakes and expenditure wasted on projects abandoned by the Government in the past 10 years. Perhaps those noble Lords present should look at page 10 of today's Daily Telegraph where it details payments of £38 million handed out to managers involved in the National Health Service funding crisis. Contrast that £38 million with the £2 million that these pensioners need; a quantum that is diminishing every day.

We also have only to look at the documents that come to us ever increasingly from the UK National Audit Office, which should receive more scrutiny than they do in this House. Believe me, they do not add up to an endorsement of the Government being careful with taxpayers’ money. Sadly, the Rhodesia Crown servants do not have a powerful voice. They do not have a militant trade union forcing the issue. In effect, robust as he is—and he is certainly a tiger in his attitude when faced with injustice—it seems that they have only my noble friend Lord Waddington fighting for them.

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My noble friend has taken up the cudgels on behalf of these unfortunate people of pensionable age and has told the House in the past and on many occasions the history of the sorry saga. Some of it bears repetition.

When a governor was appointed after UDI, the Order in Council reaffirmed Southern Rhodesia’s status as a British colony. A constitution for an independent Zimbabwe was negotiated, including a good provision on the remittance of pensions to persons not ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe. The then Minister stated that there were full safeguards for public service pensions and their ability to be remitted.

With the knowledge that all of us possess about the slide into chaos of that once wonderful country, it is no surprise that as the Zimbabwe dollar declined in value, so did the value of the pensions remitted by the Government of Zimbabwe. But in February 2003, four and a half years ago, payments from Zimbabwe stopped. What was the response of Her Majesty’s Government? They put forward a range of reasons for why they were not prepared to honour their responsibilities. Where is justice in this? I ask the Minister to justify this action and if he cannot to do something about it. Perhaps he would like to use his skills, not least in eloquence, to take up the case with his right honourable and honourable friends, particularly the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It may be a pathetically small issue, amounting to a row of beans in the grand sums of our gross national product, but this country has an honourable reputation of standing by its principles. Our word used to be our bond and I sincerely hope that our Government will not besmirch that reputation by ignoring a grave injustice which can so easily be put right. Our reputation is in the hands of this Government. I make a plea to the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that this reputation is guarded and not further tarnished on his watch.

We have heard stirring words from my noble friend Lord Waddington and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to the effect that they will continue to battle for this cause, particularly from my noble friend who said that he would battle for as long as he has breath in his body. Surely, the Government must respond to this and in doing so commend my noble friend for the all efforts he has made and is still making to ensure that justice prevails.

9.37 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, this is the first time I have looked at this subject and, with a little hindsight, one may look back and ask how on earth we ever got here. Going through the history of this and the history of Zimbabwe, it is odd to find ourselves discussing a matter concerning so few people and very small sums of money. Then we have to wonder why the Government will not deal with this. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, gave us a master class on how to pull the absurdities from legal structures in order to look at how they function. Surely, Parliament should do that.

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I should like to ask, and to have clearly placed on the record, why the Government do not feel that it is their position to intervene. What great principle would be threatened? What is the great danger? Exactly what is the status of these people if they are not receiving their pensions? I am not an expert on how these matters work or on the decline of the Zimbabwean dollar. In legal terms, what would those pensions be worth now? I suspect they may be worth almost nothing. Would these people be any better off with this pension than they would be if supported by our benefits system? We need clarification on that.

If we do not address the real problem, rather than the legal problem, we will get nowhere. If the legal problem is that the Government fear that they would set a precedent involving costs running through the structure, we must look at the structure and how it is set up. Unless we have a knowledgeable discussion—the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, deserves considerable credit for opening up the subject—we cannot go forward. It is unlikely that we will ever have a situation exactly like this again. UDI was 42 years ago and, as the noble Lord savagely pointed out, Anno Domini is removing this problem virtually by the day. This will set precedents for other servants overseas or those who have positions in other places that our Government administer. How will this fit in?

What are the Government actually worried about in legal terms? If we know, we can make some progress or at least give a coherent answer. I have a nagging suspicion that the treasury departments of all the political parties are a little nervous when a discussion such as this takes place. Let us be brutally honest and say what the problem is. Unless we have some clarification of what the Government think cannot be done and why, we can go no further. I am interested in hearing the answer. I hope that we can at least get a clear answer tonight even if we cannot get a solution.

9.40 pm

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I do not wish to delay the House for very long and I need not do so, because in all the many years that I have known him I do not think that I have ever heard a more persuasive speech than that made by my noble friend Lord Waddington tonight. He made the case supremely well. My noble friend Lord Luce—I shall call him that, even though he sits on the Cross Benches—added immense weight because of his responsibilities at the time in the Government and because he, more than most people in this House, is in a position to speak of questions that concern duty to the Crown. I was particularly struck by his remarks on that topic; it happened that I stayed with Humphrey Gibbs in Government House just before UDI. I have always had immense admiration for his courage and sense of duty, which gave a lead to so many others in that difficult period.

I speak for this reason only: I was a member of the Cabinet when the negotiations took place and the decisions were made. I was a colleague of Lord Soames when he went out to take on those responsibilities as governor. As a member of the Administration of the

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time, I feel a sense of deep shame and embarrassment that we are now in this position. It cannot have been what we imagined in any circumstances would be the outcome. I therefore wish to add, with all the power that I can, my words of support as a member of the Government at the time, and my hope and expectation that this Government will do something to honour the pledges given.

9.43 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Waddington for his continued commitment to the welfare of those who served the Crown in Southern Rhodesia before UDI in 1965.

Our debate has been invaluable for this House to reconsider the plight and the desperate situation of all those condemned to live under the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe. This chaos has been brought about, in some cases deliberately engineered, entirely by Robert Mugabe’s ruthless determination to hold on to power at any cost. The human suffering is enormous.

We on these Benches feel great sympathy for those loyal servants of the Crown who now find themselves victims of grave economic injustice. We are sympathetic to all Zimbabweans who must suffer the torment of living under the ZANU-PF regime.

At independence, in 1980, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, the exchange rate of the Zimbabwe dollar to the pound sterling was one to one. Today, on the parallel market, it is a staggering 2 million to one. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about the disastrous inflation situation. How right he is. Inflation is expected to reach 1.5 million per cent by the end of the year and is already reliably estimated at 22,000 per cent. This means that not only the pensions of former Crown servants but also all pensions have been eroded to dust. A recent story in the Guardian of a man no longer sent his pension statement as his fund was worth less than the price of a stamp is, tragically, not an uncommon case.

Many former Crown servants remained in Zimbabwe after independence and became Zimbabwean citizens. They put their trust in the future of the independent state under majority rule. They were failed by the tyranny of Robert Mugabe. Without a Government to support them, many of these people now need financial support and they need it desperately. Their faith in and commitment to the future of Zimbabwe have been badly betrayed.

The trust of the international community has also been betrayed, not only by the Government of Zimbabwe but also by regional leaders. At the Southern African Development Community summit this year, they offered no meaningful reprimand to Mugabe or his ZANU-PF machine. It seems that President Mbeki is still not prepared to adopt the firm approach towards Mugabe that could so swiftly topple his Government. The SADC countries that buffer Zimbabwe geographically also buffer Zimbabwe politically. Economic aid is of no use unless it is spent well. SADC Governments need to recognise the cost in both human and economic terms of their failure to censure Mugabe and the damage that it is doing to the reputation of the whole region.

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To think that this area was known centuries ago as the land of Ophir, supposedly the site of Solomon’s mines, rich and blessed with the most formidable and mysterious cultural ruins in the world. But in Zimbabwe today, 4 million people are on borderline starvation and more than 3,200 people are dying every week from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses.

Will Her Majesty’s Government review how they donate their economic aid in the future so that it no longer props up the Mugabe regime? We on these Benches urge the Government not only to listen but also to act. It is too easy to say that Zimbabwe is an African crisis and that it requires an African solution. We are all stakeholders. Why should British taxpayers be expected to foot Mugabe’s bill for a country that was once an agricultural and economic jewel of the continent?

The Prime Minister’s robust refusal to attend the EU-AU summit later this year if Mugabe attends is most welcome and must be commended. It is an example to other EU leaders and I hope—but, sadly, do not expect—that they will follow him in refusing to condone the presence at an EU assembly of so ruthless a man.

We have long pressed for a more robust stance, as stressed by my noble friend Lady O’Cathain, only to be told that there was nothing that could be done by Her Majesty’s Government. Some of your Lordships may find it surprising, to put it mildly, that Mugabe still holds the honorary knighthood that he was awarded in 1994. Are Her Majesty’s Government still reviewing the situation, or do they think that it might now be time to address their adversary head-on and strip Mugabe of his knighthood and his affiliation with this nation?

The British embassy website has a link to the excellent charity Homes in Zimbabwe, which supports care homes for the elderly in Zimbabwe. Its method is to build on existing establishments and infrastructures to benefit as many vulnerable pensioners as possible; I hope that many former Crown servants benefit. I pay tribute to the splendid job done by Her Majesty’s ambassador in Harare, Andrew Pocock, in very difficult circumstances. He and his staff do much to maintain the morale of Zimbabweans and those British subjects still resident in Zimbabwe, particularly the elderly. I know that the register of the British citizens in Zimbabwe kept by the embassy is currently being updated and I trust that the exercise will also help to identify individuals at risk or in particular need.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the questions put to him and hope that he will reassure us that Her Majesty’s Government will do all that they can to save this dwindling band of former Crown servants in Zimbabwe from anxiety and distress in the twilight of their lives.

9.50 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on introducing this debate tonight. I add my thanks to him for his continued engagement in the crisis in Zimbabwe and acknowledge that I have

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learnt a lot from him this evening. I shall go back to officials and examine this extremely carefully, as I think that he has a case.

The position of the elderly in Zimbabwe is tragic—the elderly of all colours, races and economic situations. Some 5 per cent of the population in that country is counted as old, and AIDS and emigration have removed many of the young on whom they might have been able to depend for economic support. The economic crisis and the extraordinary inflation, which the IMF says may reach 100,000 per cent this year, mean that anyone with savings and pensions will find them worthless if they are denominated in Zimbabwean currency—and this has hit right across the board.

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