HL Deb 26 January 1993 vol 541 cc1226-56

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Elles rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether there are plans to resume development aid from donor countries to Malawi.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Question follows on from the reply given to a similar Question by my noble friend Lady Chalker on 9th November 1992 and published in the Official Report, in which it was stated: But the improvements made so far arc not sufficient evidence of fundamental change in the Malawi Government's approach to human rights and good government …". [Official Report, 9/11/92; WA1]

Before embarking on argument before your Lordships I should like to take this opportunity to thank very warmly my noble friend Lady Chalker who has stayed late in order to answer this debate tonight and other noble Lords who will be taking part in our discussion later this evening.

I believe that all noble Lords taking part in this debate recognise the necessity both to promote and to preserve human rights and fundamental freedoms. No doubt most of us will have received important material from Amnesty International and a report from the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar. In the report by the Law Society delegation there are both disturbing and encouraging elements. There can never be any justification for or toleration of torture. Accounts that torture has taken place must be investigated, the perpetrators punished and control measures established so that it does not occur again. That is so whatever one's views may be about the resumption of development aid.

Some of the matters raised in the report have already been remedied or there has been an acknowledgment that steps are being taken. There are also some signs of encouragement. The delegation appears to have had complete access to whomsoever they wished. That is not a symptom of a repressive or oppressive regime. So far as I can understand it, members of the Malawi judiciary have acted in complete independence. One example is given in the Law Society report; that is, the return of university students to their campus having come before the court (p. 54). The report concludes: We entirely accept that many of the problems we have spotlighted stem from law inherited or advised from Britain at the time of independence or subsequently drafted by British lawyers". I believe that that is evident from the measures that have been considered. I believe it would be helpful if there was a continuing dialogue between the Law Society's delegation, or other representatives of the Law Society and Bar Council, and the Malawi Law Society in their efforts for peaceful legal change where human rights may still be abused or there is a fear that they may be abused.

The underlying question that I am asking is, what is now expected of Malawi? Further, is there no differentiation to be made at all in the assessment of observance in western Europe, where even the European Convention on Human Rights is not always observed and there is an average per capita GDP of about $11,000 a year, and observance by one of the poorest countries of the world—Malawi——with a per capita GDP of about $160 a year? Can we really apply the same criteria and standards at the present time to both parts of the world? It is recognised that donor countries are changing their perception of the grounds upon which development aid is given and that human rights and good governance are factors to be taken into account.

I should like to set out the demands that have been made on Malawi to meet certain human rights standards and the very considerable efforts for change that have been made by the Malawi Government in a very short space of time. It is not easy, in the short space of under 13 months, very rapidly to change, modify and amend laws that have been traditional over several years. In December 1991 certain western governments and the United States raised concern on issues to which the Malawi Government paid immediate attention and gave positive responses.

The first matter was detention without trial. According to a recent statement by the life president, Doctor Banda (I received a copy of this document on 31st December) all political prisoners have been released and we have no political prisoners in jail now". Secondly, intimidation of the general public by Malawi Congress Party activists. A stop was imposed on the sale of party cards at various public places—bus stops, markets and so on. I understand that that was a form of abuse which was rife at the time. Thirdly, freedom of the press and of expression. I understand that at least 18 different independent newspapers and magazines are now published in Malawi and circulate on a regular basis. Fourthly, prison conditions and access to prisons by independent bodies. It was announced some time ago that the International Committee of the Red Cross was going to visit the prisons and report on conditions so that improvements could be made. In his speech the life president gave formal undertakings to comply with the ICRC's findings when the report is completed.

If development aid could be ring-fenced, prisons could undoubtedly be improved. But it must surely be accepted that where there is great poverty it is irrational to expect sums to be spent on prisons when living conditions for law abiding people are still very basic. After all, proportionately, we have the same problem in the United Kingdom. Some of us who have had the misfortune to have to visit prisons in our country know that those prisons are totally unacceptable in relation to our own standard of living. But shortage of funds prevents immediate modernisation. What appear to be Treasury shortcomings in this country become major human rights abuses in another. Fifthly, the Forfeiture Act, which did not provide for the right of the forfeited person to be heard, has now been amended with the desired result.

These positive responses were made by the Malawi Government at a time, it should be added, when there are more than 1 million refugees in a country with a population of 8 million. Acknowledgment and recognition were made of this fact by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in winding-up the previous debate. One wonders whether there is any other country, rich or poor, which has such an immediate proportion of refugees pouring in over the Mozambique border. And let us admit that humanitarian aid, although absolutely necessary and indeed welcome, cannot possibly answer all the social and political problems which result from this current influx. In addition, a widespread drought is bringing near famine not only to Malawi but to neighbouring countries.

Following these positive responses, made in good faith, further demands were made on 30th April 1992. I shall list some of those demands. First, adding to the demand for the release or trial of all political detainees, there should be no new detainees without trial. I have already quoted the reply of the life president. Secondly, the inspection and improvement of prisons. Since the first demand, a visit has been made by the ICRC. I understand that for the time being the report is not available; and in any case these reports are confidential. The life president has undertaken to make considerable improvements to prisons where such improvements are recommended.

The third demand was the publication and distribution in Malawi of human rights texts to which Malawi is a party. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised. As worded in the document I have seen, it is surely unrealistic, first, to go to the enormous expense of printing these texts, and, secondly, to distribute them to a population who even in their own local languages are, at maximum, 25 per cent. literate. Fourthly, the setting up of dialogue between Malawi and international human rights organisations, including invitations to Malawi. I believe that this is an important request. A delegation from the United Kingdom Law Society and the General Council of the Bar, to which I have already referred, was received by the life president. The delegation had long interviews with lawyers and private citizens and published its report on its return in December last year. I very much hope that similar delegations will go.

In response to the original and subsequent demands, the most important of which I have mentioned, the Malawi Government have amended the Preservation of Public Security Act to allow detainees to have recourse to legal process through the open courts and to appeal against detention. For those cases which cannot be dealt with in open court there is now a detention review tribunal. Further comment is also needed in regard to the rights of journalists to freedom of expression. As I understand it, one of the difficulties concerns adequate provision of training. It has been possible, through the good offices of the British Council, to recommend that some training may he available through its office in Zimbabwe. Application has been made for journalists—who in Malawi terms are known as "dissidents" —to benefit from such training.

Then there is the removal from the traditional courts of all crimes carrying serious punishment. That issue is currently under review, but it should be stressed that this must be a difficult change to effect within a short period of time even if the intention is expressed, since the traditional courts are those which are understood by the people of Malawi. They must be able to understand the benefit to them of what would replace them and how accessible these new courts or alternative measures would be.

Both sets of demands of December 1991 and April 1992 were raised at the consultative group meeting in Paris in May 1992 at which the Malawi Government expressed their commitment to the observance of human rights and good governance. Despite the very considerable efforts to which I have already referred, a new set of demands was forthcoming on 20th October 1992, including once again unimpeded access by lawyers, priests and relatives to all prisoners; and the separation of responsibilities for controlling police, prison and immigration. To reorganise the whole of these services would in itself cost an amazing amount of money. I believe that that is quite unrealistic for the time being at any rate, considering the size of the country and the refugee problems which they are having to deal with.

Another demand was opportunities for religious, business community and other groups to put the case for democratic reform through peaceful means; the automatic and prompt publication of the names of those arrested and released and the grounds for so doing. Even in the European Community, and in this country in particular, as we well know, it is not always possible, for all kinds of reasons including grounds of privacy, to publish immediately the names of those who have been arrested and later released.

Those demands have been put to the Malawi Government, to take the necessary measures towards creating a new situation. The life president recognises that there is a new situation. He recognises these efforts which, under his guidance, have been implemented. He has declared the new vision of Malawi to be "irreversible". I believe that that is encouraging.

There are three further brief points that I would like to mention. The first is the trial of Mr. Chihana on five counts of contravening the penal code. He was convicted on two and three counts were dropped. I have read carefully the reasoned judgment which must of course be based on Malawi law as it is now. Whether that law in relation to sedition is eventually changed is one thing, but the judiciary has the obligation to apply the current law. If there is any doubt as to the conduct and course of that judgment, Mr. Chihana has the right of appeal to the appeal court.

In its report the Law Society accepted the independence of the judiciary and remarked, incidentally, on the acute shortage of magistrates. Here again, as for prison improvement, if development funds were available, even to a limited extent, they could be applied to the very necessary training of more magistrates to meet that lacuna. I hope that this is an aspect of the question to which my noble friend will be able to reply.

It is very relevant that your Lordships should be aware, especially those who are familiar with United Nations Resolution No. 1503 procedure—which goes through the United Nations sub-commission on discrimination and minorities, of which I happened at one time to be a member, and eventually to the Commission on Human Rights—that there has not been any complaint of violation by the Malawi Government or its agents of human rights in Malawi. Yet at least four other African countries have been named in the 1992 report.

I accept that measures needed to be taken and that many have been taken. There are no doubts that more need to be taken. If the situation was so serious for Malawi to be deprived of development aid, individuals would surely have used the UN procedure to make a legitimate complaint.

Poverty is no ally of the observance of human rights, and development aid is undoubtedly badly needed. That is not to underestimate the issues that have been raised by donor countries, but it is sincerely hoped that the efforts of Malawi to meet current comments will be recognised and that it will be helped by further financial aid to make further improvements.

It would be a major contribution to today's discussion if my noble friend the Minister, with her long-standing and high reputation in Africa, could state, first, in the view of the Government and donors, on what issues have inadequate responses been received to the questions already put and, secondly, in her view, are there any other matters that could further impede Malawi from receiving the development aid which is so badly needed?

The same argument can be made about aid as is made about sanctions. After all, aid to Malawi goes to help the rural population of a country which, unlike so many other African countries, has had a stable and peaceful political existence for the past 20 years, and in which the people are peaceful and industrious. Indeed, Malawi itself has been a long-time friend of Britain.

9.31 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I was going to say that I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for tabling this Unstarred Question, but as Mr. Banda controls most of the media in Malawi and as I believe that any complimentary remarks will be reported in the papers while anything said against Malawi will not, I fear that to do so would almost be to his advantage.

I have been to Malawi on a number of occasions. In 1990 I travelled around the country for two months. I have to admit that it is one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever visited, but it is also one of the strangest because it is so multi-layered. I agree that the judiciary and the army are independent, and Malawi must be congratulated on its excellent record over refugees from Mozambique. However, once one has lived in the country for a while and has talked to its people, one finds that beneath the exterior facade of people living happily lies a state which is run on the basis of an autocratic dictatorship. If one talks to Malawians by themselves and away from the villages, one hears a completely different story from that which would be given if one talked to people in the cities. There is a real fear among Malawians of disappearing, of being arrested, intimidated and held without trial. When I was over there I heard a number of people talking about their experiences at the hands of Malawi Youth, which is a rather heavy-handed implement of the Malawi Congress Party.

Although the impression has been given that Mr. Banda's hold on Malawi is not so severe, it is. When I entered Malawi, I came through what is called the "gun-run", which is an armed convoy that goes through Mozambique. When I reached the border-post, I was informed that one is not allowed to have long hair. A friend of mine had to have his hair cut, but I cannot say that that was over-authoritarian. I also found it rather amusing that my bags were searched for a travel guide, The Shoestring Guide to Africa. This book is banned from Malawi because it gives a rather jaded view of Mr. Banda. On entering the country, people's bags are searched to make sure that such seditious views cannot reach the population. However, quotations from it can hardly be said to be seditious. In fact, if they related to our present Government, they would be printed every day in our daily newspapers.

The human rights record in Malawi is nothing but atrocious. The Malawi Government keep control by imprisonment, torture, executions and, to a great extent, fear. Is it right that we should provide development aid which allows the Malawi Government to continue to function when it takes such actions? Is it not better that we and other countries should do what we have previously done in other cases; that is, to suspend development aid until democracy is introduced and the human rights record is improved?

The issue of human rights was brought to the world's attention by eight Catholic bishops who sent to all the Catholic ministries a letter which was read out to the congregations. It condemned Dr. Banda's record on human rights, on working conditions and on the wages paid to most of the people working in Malawi. As a result of writing such a seditious document all the bishops were arrested and held for 48 hours. They were later released but tapes which were smuggled out of the country and later verified provide evidence that the Malawi Cabinet talked about executing them.

Development aid should be reinstated only when the Malawi Government have introduced democratic elections. The proposed referendum goes nowhere near fulfilling those objectives. It is ridiculous to assume that a referendum which will be held on 15th March, when all political parties will still be banned, will have anything but one result. Indeed, there is talk of having two ballot boxes; one for the Malawi Congress Party and one for the Opposition. That is hardly a fair system of election.

I wish to point to an example which shows the degree to which the referendum is a mockery. I refer to the members of the Referendum Commission. They include members of the Malawi Congress Party and the Reverend Njaidi who is the current chaplain to the Malawi police force. Indeed, the commission includes Father Tenthani, the only Catholic priest in Malawi who refused to read the historic pastoral letter which sparked the current debate on human rights in Malawi. Only one person can be seen as not chosen by the Government; that is the Reverend Dr. Nyirenda. However, the support of the Public Affairs Committee which put his name forward has since been revoked and therefore he cannot be seen to stand on behalf of the Opposition parties.

Democracy can work in Malawi. It was instituted on independence but after only two years Dr. Banda declared himself president for life. It is a matter of urgency that democracy is introduced. Dr. Banda is in his nineties and there is reason to believe that he is more than 100 years old. He will not live forever. Mr. Tembo, who is seen as running the country, would not be acceptable to any Malawians as a successor. Democratic elections should be implemented while Dr. Banda is in power in order to stop any power vacuum which would lead to unrest. Rather than agreeing to reinstate development aid, I hope that the Minister will give some indication of what measures she is taking to promote further democracy in Malawi.

9.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for raising this Question. It is of crucial importance to the life of a whole nation at this critical time. No one has yet spoken of how critical it is in these days of rallies, upheaval and uncertainty, for those who are bravely leading the reform movement.

I seek to speak for those Church leaders and supporters who constitute the core of a remarkable and dramatic movement for reform and moderation. I have their messages, the documents which they have sent to me and their descriptions of the state of the country at present. If the Minister tells us that the Government's policy is what I hope and believe it to be, it will affect not only the life of a whole community and nation but also the lives of extremely courageous people whose liberty and life is threatened. I believe that one person has already been arrested since he dared to speak courageously at a rally last Sunday.

This is an extremely vital and perilous time for Malawi. Decisions taken by donor countries and a firm response by the international community to the misrule from which that country still suffers—let us have no illusions about that —are vital. Perhaps in no country has the brave stand of a small precarious group of Christian leaders, women and men, had such a striking effect in such a short time during its history. Achievements have been made which would have looked impossible before last March. Malawi can easily be seen by tourists and people who speak casually about it as a lovely, idyllic, quiet country. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, when one goes deeper, one begins to see what is the real system.

My church friends have gradually revealed to me, as have other informants, some of whom returned recently, that there is still a system of absolute dictatorship which justifiably can be seen to be of an eastern European character underneath. But suddenly, after years of tragic oppression, the country is beginning to break free. There is a freedom and independence of the judiciary in one sense; in another, the appointment and discharge of judges remains in the hands of the president. In many ways the judges are subordinated, as the Law Society report showed, to the will of the president. That remains true.

However much turnover there may be, all appointments of MPs are controlled from the centre. Even the economy has been captive to the president's own organisation and press holdings. Although there has been some modification of the process, a great deal in the country has been in the hands of the central authority. The gross national product has been employed in a way which has very largely maintained a central elite with great wealth helping to finance the large palaces which have been built. It was to one of those palaces that the speaker at the rally dared to point attention. I believe that that helped to lead to his detention not long afterwards.

Recently all those matters have been exposed for what they are. The Roman Catholic bishops' letter, about which your Lordships have heard, read out to so many thousands of churches marked a watershed. The process which began with that letter is, I pray, hope and believe, unstoppable. There were threats to murder the bishops, and they are still not out of danger. No one who is leading this reform or is identified with it is free from the danger of arrest or death.

In September there was the incredible indictment of the report on human rights in Malawi by the Law Society. I was told by a priest friend who returned this week from Malawi that judges looking at the report in Malawi have been staggered to see all the scattered fragments of what people knew about the oppression of the country brought together in one terrible whole—detention without trial, trial without proper procedure, and sentencing without proper cause. We would need to have a great deal more discussion about the sentence under which Mr. Chihana was condemned. The Law Society did not seem to feel, on recent inquiries, that it had been a fair or proper trial or that he was sentenced rightly, or that the laws under which he was sentenced were adequate.

Certainly, it is still difficult to get to see prisoners, and it is still dangerous to join in the movements which nonetheless a large number of people are joining. They started by speaking timorously and tentatively but are now beginning to speak courageously, and the thugs of the youth league and the youth pioneers are not able to stop them, nor are the police with all their sadly terrifying modes of repression within the police station, which are well authenticated and still continuing, able to stop them. Indeed, it is worrying that the police have very clearly had collusion with and visits from police authorities from South Africa.

The party is having to lumber gradually into a new state, which is certainly true, but Banda reminded the people not long after the Catholic bishops' letter that they were first Malawians and secondly Christians, and that they must tell the church leaders that they are not speaking the true message to Malawi. He dismissed the protesters as dissidents—a word that has been referred to already—but in his own language that is an offensive word to those who were so described since it had a particular meaning in Chicheva. The party has to break the spirit of that Christian Church opposition or it will itself be broken. There is no doubt that that is the situation at present.

Meanwhile, there has steadily emerged this group of leaders who have become moral and actual spokespeople for a whole dynamic: the public affairs committee, its chairman a heroic frail old bishop, Bishop Chimoli, recovering from a stroke; its deputy chairman, a very able, articulate and active man Emmanuel Chinkwita-Pirie, a Baptist who has brought the Baptists in behind him to quite a large extent. Already behind him are the great majority of the Presbyterians, the Roman Catholics and Anglicans. They are all represented on this committee, together with the leaders of the two multi-democracy parties, now seeking to work closely together, AFORD and the UGF. Also represented on this committee is the Law Society of Malawi, the University and the polytechnic and the Moslem Association. It is a formidable body and not one to be looked upon lightly. But at the same time all its members are conscious that they are under threat.

Recently the rallies have stepped up, and now they are reaching such a size and impressiveness that I think it would take a Tiananmen Square to stop them. I trust that we shall not give any encouragement to such a solution by in any way relaxing our own approach. We have heard of rallies this last weekend, for instance. We have heard of attempted government rallies attracting about five people in one case, and even when John Tembo himself was calling another rally there were about 118 people, whereas there were 20,000 people at the rally last Sunday addressed by the Reverend Peter Kaleso and the Reverend Aaron Longwe, brave men, both of whom went back to their homes knowing that they might be arrested. One of them was, and the other has disappeared. His whereabouts are unknown. His wife had been arrested on Friday. This habit of seizing people and arresting them without warning and taking them away without any clear reason shows that the whole process is still in action.

Mrs. Vera Chirwa has indeed been released, and obviously we rejoice in that news and are grateful for it, but the persecution and harassment of these others overshadows that. One cannot help feeling that that itself is due to the economic pressure which has been exerted, and one hopes that that economic pressure may be continued and intensified. Every effort is still being made by a regime which is fundamentally sinister to retain power.

In all this movement the pressure exerted by the EC donors in July (to which reference has been made) of cutting off development aid has had a most powerful effect. The president told the Law Society delegation that Malawi was prosperous but he recognises that the sources of his own power are drying up or being threatened by what is happening, and the release of Mrs. Chirwa may have had something to do with it. The representatives of the government are now assiduous in seeking to persuade us that all is reformed. We have heard talk of this already, but I see no reason to trust them now any more than one could trust them in the past or to believe that this can really be true. We must not be deceived while arrests and detentions and torture and oppression continue. I have reliable accounts of such actions continuing.

The Malawian leaders who stand for reform are isolated. I feel that they are in danger. Any move on our part to change our present stance would be very dangerous. We must, if anything, add further pressure. The movement is beginning to gather force. It is beginning to deepen and widen. It is finding expression in those irrepressible African instruments of expression—songs. People are daring to sing publicly: The lion we once knew has turned into a hyena". The victory sign of freedom and liberation is spreading among the people. That was happening even in the last week. The whole movement can be seen to be deepening in rural as well as in urban areas.

Therefore, I do not believe that we should give any encouragement to representatives of the present discredited order who come seeking support. Obviously, we want to give all the support we can to an impoverished country, but we must do so in the right order. First we must see a real change.

The Law Society report emphasised above all the fear that pervades society everywhere. That is still true, despite the courage with which people are beginning to make changes and to realise the liberation that comes from that. The president has conceded a referendum but, as we have heard, under international and economic pressure and pressure from the United Nations. The United Nations report to the president was clear. It wanted a non-partisan commission, free expression of all views, a new voting register, proper monitoring and an education programme, which could not be achieved earlier than June in the view of the United Nations. The president, manoeuvring to implement the referendum as soon as possible, wants to give his opponents no time and has chosen March for the referendum. He wants rapid preparation.

I have in my possession a leaked document, which looks authentic. It is the agenda for a meeting of the national executive committee and cabinet ministers on Saturday, 9th January, 1993. It indicates that the cabinet wants to use drama and all forms of propaganda to try to persuade the people to change the image of the Malawi Congress Party in a hurry. They want to "buy"—the word used in the document—the agricultural extension workers and others who have supported multi-party democracy. They might be threatened with dismissal. The life president is to tour districts to try to persuade chiefs and other people of influence, through personal approaches and, where necessary, using incentives such as a bale of sugar, soap or salt, that they would be better off staying with the established order. That is what the document indicates. It is allegedly a cabinet document, and I believe it to be so.

The requirements of the reform group are clear. It wants one ballot box. It is said that two have always been used in the past. That may have been so. The president wanted one to be marked with the black cock of the Malawi Congress Party and a soldier standing by. That soldier, he tried to assure everybody, would pay no attention to how people voted. I do not think that people are likely to believe that. The reform group wants no movement of ballot boxes to a central point nor does it want them moved around, even in the way they were in the Kenyan elections. Election by election, as the mood for popular control spreads in Africa, we are beginning to see the growth of awareness in those areas.

The reform group also wants the eligible age for voters to be not 21, as the president has insisted, but 18. At the age of 18 people begin to pay taxes, and 25 per cent. of the population is aged between 18 and 21. That group would form a major part of the voting population. Therefore, the reform group does not want those people excluded by some device.

The group also wants education for everybody over a period of time which must extend beyond March. The group is prepared to negotiate that with the United Nations. It also wants access to the radio. Freedom of the press has been mentioned. However, most people in the country are illiterate and do not read the newspapers. The opposition must be given access to the radio. That would indeed be a revolutionary change. That is what is required. Nothing less will do.

There must be freedom of expression. The reform group wants meetings which are genuinely free of interference. At present it has proved impossible to hold meetings; there has been police prohibition. However, meetings have been held in defiance of what the police have said.

We must back those demands. We must back the firm requirements of the UN and the reform group. We are not backing our own views, or our own 20th century sophisticated ideas, as they are accused of being. We are backing Malawians themselves. Malawians have taken us seriously. They are working together, inspired by faith and a vision of a new society, to try to change their society. We must support them at this time. A new political order must be established while life-president Banda is still there. Once that free order is clearly established, we must back the Malawians in the tremendous programme of moral and spiritual rehabilitation and development which will then be needed.

Many senior politicians and officials have blood on their hands; and the old gang will try to cling to power. There must be a real shift. In that shift we, the donors from outside, must do all that we can to back the people who represent the great mass of public opinion, as a free democratic vote would show. The Church has a great deal to do in the reconciliation, healing and peacemaking that will then be needed. I do not underestimate that task for one moment. Nor do the Christian leaders. Massive economic help will then be needed. We know of the poverty, the tremendous problems of the HIV-positive patients in the hospital beds, the undernourishment of children, and the huge needs for every kind of medical help in this beautiful country with its tremendous potential. Such help can be realised only in a free, just and properly ordered society. On behalf of all those whose lives and liberty are in our hands today, by the way in which the Government respond and decide, I appeal to our Government and all the donor governments to keep up a relentless pressure for true, popular, just and free transformation because the moment for that has come.

9.56 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, like others, I am grateful to my noble friend Baroness Elles, for initiating the debate, and for trying to present us with a fair and balanced view of a difficult situation.

My anxiety is the effect that the withdrawal of financial aid is having on the medical services in Malawi. The AIDS epidemic is sweeping Africa and straining Malawi's already overstretched health resources. When one visits the hospital wards, as I have done, they are full of people who have AIDS. As noble Lords will be aware, many of the African countries will lose one-third of their population. Mozambican refugees have been allowed free access to Malawian hospitals and often 50 per cent. to 70 per cent. of the hospital beds are occupied by those refugees.

The population of Malawi is 8 million; and the number of Mozambican refugees is approximately 1 million. It has to be said that the Malawian Government have behaved well towards the refugees and, although the donor nations have recognised that in their previous contributions, nevertheless there are many hidden costs which are not covered by the donors in hosting that great number of people from Mozambique.

The increased demands on the Malawian health service have been made much worse by the most severe drought in living memory. It has aggravated diseases of malnutrition and water-related diseases such as diarrhoea and poor hygiene. Many primary health care projects have been slowed down or stopped. The World Bank had approved projects to build two district hospitals, one in Chiradzula and the other in Lilongwe districts. Those cannot proceed. The World Bank projects to upgrade urban health centres for the purpose of decongesting the Malawian city hospitals have also been halted. The procurement of drugs and medical equipment has been affected because of the foreign exchange shortfalls. There is a widespread shortage of drugs in all those hospitals. I should like to thank the Minister for recently persuading the Government to supply £500,000 for drugs to help in this desperate situation.

Having visited Malawi, I was able to recognise the many achievements of the government and people of the country and to see the peace and security that many enjoy, in marked contrast to the picture of the people in neighbouring countries. I welcome the efforts that have been made by the Malawian Government to broaden the participation of the people, to offer them a referendum and to give the people an increasing say in their own affairs. I very much hope that the British Government will make every effort to help the Malawian Government in their efforts. I have in mind particularly the important role of the press and radio which could be encouraged to give better expression of many points of view. Of course, the press can be a great nuisance but it tends to keep people on their toes. It would be helpful if Malawi were to encourage better coverage by the international press of the country's achievements and its difficulties. I know that recently there were no foreign press reporters living in Malawi. If this could be rectified, I am sure that it would be of benefit.

I know that within Malawi there have been accusations of corruption among those who seek power in opposition to the government. The same kind of accusations have been made against friends of the present government. The whole problem of accountability is one with which we are still learning to grapple in our own country and it is a problem which we should be prepared to help the Malawian Government face more effectively. Perhaps more transparency in financial dealings could be achieved by an order from the life president that senior civil servants, ministers and leaders of any potential opposition parties should declare their assets annually. That would help maintain public confidence in the country's present and potential leaders.

It is, of course, reasonable for us to wish that Malawi will enjoy the kind of democracy which we now have. But it took us 600 or 700 years to achieve it. Malawi has only been going for a mere 30 years. There are elections every five years and each constituency may have as many as five candidates from which to choose—albeit from only one party. At the election last year, half the members lost their seats, including one cabinet minister and four deputies.

I should like to ask the Minister whether, if the referendum in March or June proves in favour of continuing with a one-party state, it will preclude a resumption of aid.

The release from prison on Sunday of Mrs. Chirwa was an encouraging sign of the Malawian Government's attempts to improve the political climate. Perhaps now is the time to encourage them by resuming aid, particularly in view of their unprecedented medical crisis.

10.3 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I never served in Malawi but I have a special personal connection with that country because my father lived and worked there before the First World War. Nyasaland, as the country was then known, was the first African country to which I came at the age of six months, with my young mother. It is a small, poor agricultural country with few resources, which has nevertheless relatively the most effective civil service and infrastructure of any African country in the region. It has survived hard times and is capable of delivering the good government which we seek. Unfortunately, it seems that government policies tend consciously to direct resources towards a small elite, while the general public suffer poverty and hardship. It is said that famine relief tends to be distributed first to active supporters of the Malawi Congress Party —not, I may say, very unusual in Africa.

However, I urge my noble friend the Minister and other donors to consider the special factors which should justify the restoration of a limited amount of development aid under certain conditions. Throughout the past 20 years or so, and particularly in the last 10, this small poor country has been host to over a million Mozambique refugees. With the end of the war in Mozambique and the conclusion of the peace agreement, there is hope that the pressure which so large a presence must create on the impoverished Malawi economy and its society will ease, and that Malawi's trade routes to the sea will be restored.

But the UN mission, whose task it is to supervise the disarming of the troops on both sides and to concentrate those forces (both Renamo and government forces) in camps to facilitate disarmament, and which should have begun the process in October 1992, is not yet in place. Part of the peace agreement was that the UN would be responsible for feeding those troops. That process too has not yet begun. During the hostilities, Renamo lived off the people, exacting tribute from the villages in terms of food. Now it cannot do that and is turning to selling its arms. There are always criminals ready to buy them in both Malawi and in neighbouring countries. This adds a further dimension of suffering to the lives of ordinary people.

At present, those ordinary people have had to live in very harsh conditions, side by side with refugees in the camps who receive much valuable support in terms of medical treatment, food and education from the NGOs. The land of the Malawi villagers living around is de-forested, and there is no money for development. There has been, in Malawi's eyes, a strong argument to politicise the refugee issue by arguing, upon the withdrawal of all but humanitarian aid, that without development aid they cannot be expected to afford to sustain the extra million people, who are the refugees.

I strongly argue that it is in the interest not only of Malawi but of the international community to ensure that there is a stable transition, as transition there must be in the next few years given the age of the vice-president, to a new and more representative form of government. We should build on and encourage the existing relatively sound and potentially efficient and effective infrastructure—for which, incidentally, the president deserves much credit—by giving some development aid to encourage that transition and kick-start, eventually, a new regime, making the best use of the good institutions of the country. The economy has faltered in recent years. It could recover with only quite modest injections of development aid.

What should our conditions be? Clearly the international community must insist on a truly free referendum. Humanitarian aid must not be used by the government to buy votes. The media must be free to cover the referendum. The offences against and abuses of human rights must cease, and opposition groups must not be intimidated. I suggest that in return we should begin by restoring some development aid, while endeavouring to make sure that it is aid which clearly contributes to national development and the general good and cannot be misappropriated.

Malawi for its part deserves some recognition for what it has suffered as a consequence of the long-term presence of so many refugees. It surely needs development aid to restore its economic infrastructure —for instance, new forestry projects and financing the clinics which were opened for refugees, which should remain for Malawi citizens to use.

As part of the tacit bargain that should exist between donor countries and the government, every effort should surely be made to get the UN operation moving. It is vital for the long-term viability of two countries, Malawi and Mozambique, for the refugees to be able to return successfully and to reintegrate in their own society. Until then it will be only natural for Malawi to regard the future of the refugees as a lever to be exploited to get the world's attention. Can we not now offer a strictly conditional package of limited development aid?

I hold no brief for the abuses and excesses that have undoubtedly existed. I believe we should consider the country's strategic future. We should never ignore the hateful nature of many of the acts of the present regime. But we must act in good time to do what is necessary for the long-term stability and prosperity of this small country. It has many of the ingredients that make for good government. It has a relatively good infrastructure and, above all, a tough, enduring and intelligent people.

10.10 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I speak from this place with I hope the approval of your Lordships. For over 30 years I had the pleasure and privilege of being in a way part of Africa. It was a long time ago when my late husband was the Secretary of State for the Colonies and I learned to love most of that continent, but in particular Malawi. Many is the time that I have cooked for the people who wanted to speak to my husband in that capacity. I am a bad cook but I still welcomed the people, especially those from Malawi, and in those days Kenya, who came to ask his advice in regard to forward planning for their countries.

It has been said before but I must reiterate that Malawi is a particularly poor country. As the right reverend Prelate rightly said, it is also one of the most beautiful of all the countries in Africa. Not only that, but the ordinary ground people of Malawi are some of the kindest, most hospitable people in the whole of Africa.

I thank my noble friend Lady Elles for her extremely comprehensive introduction to the Unstarred Question. She must have done an enormous amount of homework during the past weekend and I, for one, am indebted to her. I know that she has first-hand information, unlike—if I may say so—the right reverend Prelate, who does not appear to have been to the country of which he spoke for any great length of time. Unless one has lived in that country it is difficult to see the different standards that exist comparatively between the extremely rich western world and the donor countries and the extremely poor countries of Africa.

Malawi has little to offer except a kind and generous people. They have no minerals; they have practically no wealth at all. They depend on people from outside to help them. But they are always grateful for anything that is done for them.

My noble friend Lord McColl has visited there. He knows the hospitals in Africa better than I, although I have been to the hospitals in Malawi many times. His account of the hospital situation is indeed tragic. It is one that I know well. I also thank the Minister for the recent money that she has been able to—dare I say it —extract from the various budgets and send to Malawi by way of medicines.

My noble friend Lady Elles went through the démarches that were required of the Malawi Government. Most of those have already been accomplished. Others, like the referendum, are in train and will be accomplished in the next few months. Therefore, although I have many notes on it, I shall not weary your Lordships by repeating what my noble friend said. As your Lordships know, she was a member of the United Nations and knows well the standards demanded by the other western countries, especially those who are kind and donate either money, food or medicines to the impoverished countries of Africa.

When I started thinking about 1992 in terms of this country and how it affected Malawi I realised that our problems were as nothing compared with the problems faced by that country. The drought has not been surpassed since the 1949–51 drought when many people died. This year the drought has been so bad that very few crops have been harvested. More and more boreholes have had to be drilled. The water shortage is as bad as the maize shortage. This season maize has had to be imported for the first time in a long time.

Mozambique has been almost a halter round the neck of the Malawians. Despite that, the Malawian people welcomed the Mozambicans who fled from their country in despair and unhappiness at the civil war going on in Mozambique. We have had confirmation of the distinct possibility of peace breaking out in Mozambique. If it does we all hope that those 1½ million refugees will go back to their country. They have been the guests of the Malawians; they have eaten their food and have been spoilt to the extent that the Malawians have gone without food themselves in order that Mozambicans can have sufficient to eat. How are they paying them back? They are bringing guns from Mozambique to Malawi, which has never been anything but a peaceful nation. They are trying to barter their guns for food. As your Lordships will realise, this is now a source of very grave concern. If guns are bartered peace is not likely to last for very long. The life president is so worried about it that the people, the police and the army have been asked to be on the lookout for those who are bartering guns in that way.

As a direct result of the donor countries failing to give them financial support following the meeting held in Paris between 11th and 13th May the kwacha has had to be devalued twice. They and we who care very deeply for this lovely country are indebted to the voluntary aid that is going into that country—aid in the shape of the Red Cross, Oxfam and the many people who give willingly to help the country. I am not saying that this country is another Somalia or that the people are starving. They are not. The president sees to it that there is enough food to go round, but they are perilously near the starvation line.

What of the future? As the right reverend Prelate said, I feel that the discussion tonight and the answer that we hope the Minister will give will have more widespread repercussions in the whole of that lovely country than was realised when this Unstarred Question was put down. Much depends on the referendum. It is probable that the people of this country do not realise how much the result of the referendum and indeed the way in which it is conducted will have repercussions on their future lives. A great deal hangs on it. I am certain that the donor countries, with my noble friend the Minister, who in my judgment, and I am sure that of others, is always fair, will be able to ensure through the United Nations that the referendum is conducted fairly and honestly. That is the way things are conducted in Malawi. The life president is a very strict man and he sees to it that his people conduct things in the right way. With the United Nations in charge, I feel that the referendum will be as fair as any country could wish to see.

I must thank the Minister very sincerely indeed for taking the trouble to be here for what those of us who are involved and care consider to be a very important debate. She is a very busy lady. She is our roving ambassador who travels the world. I know that she is off to yet another country at five o'clock tomorrow morning, which is why I shall not go through the rest of my notes. I shall not kowtow to the Minister because she will make up her own mind but I hope that at the end of the debate she will be able to give us encouragement and the people of Malawi encouragement to go on striving to keep Malawi the happy country it has always been. It has been known throughout the world as the happiest and the most beautiful country in Africa.

10.22 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for initiating this debate. It has provided the House with a rare opportunity to discuss recent developments in Malawi. The noble Baroness spoke with compassion, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord McColl, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and, most recently, the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. We must all share their anxiety for the people of one of the poorest countries of the world. They were certainly right to recognise the refugee burden which Malawi has carried.

However, the Minister and her ministerial colleagues have powerfully argued that democracy and accountability of government are essential for meaningful, sustained, economic and social development, and that human rights must be key factors in determining aid policy. Most of us with first-hand experience of overseas development work readily endorse those principles; and it is their relevance to Malawi that we debate today.

Since the 1960s Malawi has been a one-party system under the autocratic rule of Dr. Hastings Banda, who, as we have heard, is now well into his nineties, and his Malawi Congress Party. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has graphically reminded us, the regime has a long, shameful history of human rights abuse. It is this flagrant contempt for basic human rights which on 13th May last year prompted the fourth consultative group meeting for Malawi in Paris, attended by representatives from the World Bank, the European Community, the International Monetary Fund, UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as well as from a number of individual donor countries, including the United Kingdom, to cut off non-humanitarian aid to Malawi —a decision with which, I am sorry to learn, the World Bank has subsequently felt unable fully to comply.

The group pledged only 170 million dollars of the 270 million dollars requested, and stated that the resumption of development aid would depend on, tangible and irreversible evidence of improvements in the regime's human rights record". In response, Dr. Banda announced that the regime would introduce a number of reforms including the referendum now scheduled for March 1993 on the future of the one-party system.

Sadly, close examination of the regime's human rights record over the past year and of its actions since Dr. Banda made that announcement underline the wisdom of the policy announced in Paris with its emphasis on tangible and irreversible evidence. The situation remains grim. Over the years the regime has murdered an unknown number of its opponents while subjecting many others to arbitrary arrest and incarceration in prisons where cruelty and torture appear routine. The reality is that Dr. Banda has continued to run the country as a police state and systematically deprived its citizens of their human rights. The brutality of his army and security forces is backed by a pervasive network of informers whose perjured testimonies produce trumped-up charges and sentences which make a mockery of justice.

As recently as last September an Amnesty International report on Malawi noted that all political opposition was still strictly prohibited and that, any form of dissenting opinion [was likely] to be harshly repressed". Reflecting that, people have often been imprisoned because of private conversations overheard in bars and other public places by police or party informers. Religious freedom, according to Amnesty International, exists only, "within strictly defined limits", and there is frequent discrimination on ethnic grounds in favour of those from the central region where President Banda and his deputy, John Tembo, come from, and against those from the northern region.

As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has told us, it was in response to those abuses that in March last year, before the Paris meeting, the Roman Catholic bishops issued their pastoral letter condemning the lack of freedom and the stark inequalities in wealth existing between the rich and poor within Malawi and called for the introduction of democracy. It was all too characteristic that the regime reacted by temporarily arresting seven bishops and declaring possession of their letter a criminal offence.

In a country where the president has periodically threatened to turn his opponents into "meat for crocodiles" it should come as little surprise that the pervading emotion encountered by the joint Law Society/Bar Council delegation to Malawi last September was still—using their word, and as the right reverend Prelate has reminded us—"fear" and can be attributed to the fact that even the mildest criticism of the regime was still likely to result in arrest. The population still appeared to be at the complete mercy of the police and the regime's security apparatus.

Consequently, the delegation found that detention in Malawi, means being arrested without warning, without explanation, without trial and without limit". An unknown number of people have fallen prey to those conditions. Unfortunately, the Minister of Justice was unable to shed any light on their number when asked to do so by the delegation and confessed that he had no way of finding out. That perhaps gives some insight into where justice lies in the regime's list of priorities.

A number of opposition figures have been the victims of repression, many of them on a long-term basis. Mr. Chakufwa Chihana, for example, Secretary General of the South African Trades Union Co-ordination Council and Chair of the Alliance for Democracy—a cross-party group embracing church members and other pro-democracy activists as well as trade unionists—was arrested in March last year on charges of alleged sedition. Mr. Chihana was also charged with, undermining public confidence in the government by making statements to the BBC's World Service; namely, 90 per cent. of the Malawian people are ready to change the government and that the President is too old to run the country". The Law Society/Bar Council investigated that case and found that Mr. Chihana's only crime was to call for democracy and the protection of human rights within Malawi. However, that was too much for a regime notorious for its intolerance and repression. Mr. Chihana was sentenced to two years' hard labour last month and it is feared that he will not survive that sentence because of his age and ill-health.

The regime's long-term prisoners have included Mr. Machipisa Munthali, a former Chair of the Elections Commission, and Orton and Vera Chirwa. Mr. Munthali was released only last year after 27 years in custody, 16 of which he served following the completion of the draconian 11-year sentence originally imposed in the courts. Mr. Orton Chirwa was a founder member of the MCP and a Cabinet Minister until 1964 when differences with Dr. Banda forced him to flee with his wife Vera, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist. On Christmas Eve 1981 they were arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. The Chirwas were sentenced to death in 1984, a sentence commuted to life imprisonment because of the international outcry which their case provoked.

The Law Society/Bar Council delegation visited the Chirwas in prison. This occasioned the first meeting between the couple in eight years, despite the fact that they lived only yards apart in the same prison. Sadly, Orton Chirwa died about a month after that meeting. Until the past few days and the significant intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, among others, his wife Vera remained in prison. Her release is, as the right reverend Prelate put it, reason for rejoicing; but, as he asked, what of all the others? It would be helpful if the Minister could underline the steps the Government are taking to secure the release of Mr. Chihana and the other detainees who are being held in Malawi, not least the Reverend Peter Kaleso, a leading member of the Alliance for Democracy, who was arrested only last Sunday.

These examples of the regime's tyranny explain why the international community has felt it necessary to cut off development aid to Malawi. Certainly in response, Dr. Banda promised to introduce reforms including the referendum on the future of the country's one-party system. However, the recent reports by organisations such as Amnesty International and the joint Law Society/Bar Council delegation have exposed the emptiness of most of the promises.

Indeed, harassment of pro-democracy activists has arguably increased as the ruling MCP attempts to suppress the nascent pro-democracy movement. One aspect of this is the continued arrest of pro-democracy activists, such as Mr. Felix Maponda, editor of the new weekly, the New Express. He was arrested on his return from Zambia, and there has been no public news of him to date. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have any information on his safety and whereabouts? These arrests undermine the MCP's claims that it is committed to reform, and inevitably reinforce the anxieties that the regime will manipulate the referendum results to endorse the one-party system.

If the referendum could be genuinely free and fair it would be a welcome first phase in a process towards multi-party elections. However, it would appear that the regime is taking action to ensure that the referendum is anything but free and fair. Pro-democracy activists are being intimidated and harassed while the prevailing conditions within Malawi prevent them from campaigning openly for change. Returning exiles have been arrested and detainees have been kept in gaol to weaken the pro-democracy campaign.

The UN mission which, as we have heard, visited Malawi in November last recommended that the regime should establish an independent Electoral Commission and allow Opposition groups to campaign freely and with equal access to the media. This mission also suggested that there was a strong case for delaying the referendum until June as a vote in March during the rainy season, when many areas remain cut off, would produce a low turn-out which is precisely what the regime wants. The MCP seems to be leaving nothing to chance by refusing to countenance delay. The regime has packed the Electoral Commission with its own supporters; and to limit the poll, it plans to restrict voting to those over 21. The Alliance for Democracy has claimed that the Malawian regime has implemented only about 25 per cent. of the UN electoral mission's recommendations.

Against that background, surely the Government must continue to use whatever influence they have with Dr. Banda's regime to guarantee that the referendum is democratic. The ruling MCP must be prevented from arranging a stitch-up. If the referendum is to have any credibility, it has to invite international monitors, not just observers. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government are making firm representations in order to ensure that such international monitors will be present to assess the conduct of the referendum and subsequent elections.

In addition, the MCP should compile an open register of voters. It must also allow opposition groups to function without fear of repression. To facilitate that, exiled opponents should be able to return to Malawi without fear of harassment or imprisonment and those in prison should be released immediately. Those steps are vital if the referendum result is to have any authority.

The continuing situation suggests that the regime's new-found commitment to reform may indeed be little more than a cynical confidence trick. Given HMG's commitment to linking the provision of UK aid to a recipient's support for democracy and human rights, will the Minister outline what action she and her colleagues are taking through the UN and with our EC partners to ensure that Malawi is not an exception to this standard? Will she also clarify how the Consultative Group for Malawi continues to monitor the situation and what is being done, to bring the World Bank on side? It would also be helpful if she would say whether any advice has been given to British firms which wish to invest in or trade with Malawi in order to inform them of the situation in that country.

Disturbingly, there have been reports that even humanitarian aid to Malawi is being siphoned-off by the regime and used as largesse to persuade people to vote for the one-party system in the forthcoming referendum. Will the Minister say whether she is aware of those reports? If so, will she assure the House about the measures being taken to monitor the delivery and distribution of such aid?

As I have stressed, the Consultative Group for Malawi agreed that the resumption of non-humanitarian aid will depend on tangible and irreversible evidence that the regime has improved its human rights record. Unfortunately, there is as yet little sign of such evidence and it appears that Dr. Banda's announcement of reforms and a referendum to decide the country's future may be little more than a calculated attempt to appease international opinion. Repression in Malawi has continued and unless the ruling MCP begins to allow the opposition to campaign openly and with full freedom of association and expression the referendum is likely to be a complete travesty.

In view of these factors the Government must leave Dr. Banda and the MCP in no doubt that international pressure will continue to be exerted against the regime until such time as it proves beyond all reasonable doubt that it is finally willing to put an end to human rights abuse and to introduce the democratic reforms which the people of Malawi so desperately need. Those reforms are essential if sound development is to be possible and good use made of donor money. To hold that, because it is Africa, the principle of human rights and accountability of government somehow do not matter every bit as much as here in the United Kingdom would be insensitively patronising. It would be a grievous insult to those who have been imprisoned and tortured, to those who have given their lives in the struggle for justice and to all those people about whom the right reverend Prelate spoke so movingly tonight. It would also be to deny the inescapable truth of what is necessary for sustained development, as the Minister has well argued on many occasions.

10.38 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Elles for introducing the debate tonight. It is most timely and I hope that the whole of the debate will be published and read throughout Malawi. It would be good if people in Malawi were able to see how open debate is carried out.

I greatly welcome the decision of President Banda to release Vera Chirwa so that she can spend the rest of her life in peace and freedom with her family. That was a humanitarian act and one which has rightly been welcomed by all noble Lords who have referred to it. Moreover, it has been much welcomed by all the groups involved in Malawi's human rights debate. I know that my noble friends Lady Elles and Lady Macleod of Borve played key roles, along with many others in the UK, including Her Majesty's Government, and far outside in working for Vera Chirwa's release. We are all grateful to my noble friends for their work.

I am grateful also to my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve for the wider role which she has played in persuading the Malawi Government to take more seriously human rights issues. We do not always agree, but she has been tireless in trying to bring about an understanding of the new world in which we live.

The issue of good government is now firmly on the development agenda of all donors and is set to stay there. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, need have no fear of that. Studies by international organisations show that good government is a key factor in development in Africa and essential to ensure that aid is well spent. People in this country whose taxes we spend through the aid programme are rightly concerned that the way recipient governments treat their people should be one of the factors reflected in the aid we give. This is not just a change of perception among developed countries, but in Africa too. We have seen statements from the OAU and from African leaders, and in October 1991 the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) in Harare made a forthright declaration on good government, which Malawi accepted.

Our relations with Malawi have been long and close, and we want them to remain that way. Malawi's record on economic management over the years has been good. Internal peace and security have been better maintained than in many other countries. As so many noble Lords said, Malawi has also opened her doors to over a million Mozambican refugees. But, sadly, Malawi remains a very poor country and compares badly with many other African countries on health and literacy indicators. It also faces serious environmental problems. The donors believe that those issues deserve a widespread and free debate in Malawi, as well as in other countries around the world. Last May when the consultative group met, however, human rights in the country were characterised by a lack of political accountability and choice and a denial of basic freedom of association, information and expression, continuing arrest and detention without trial of those considered a threat to public order, and the absence of a legal framework to protect human rights. There has been growing concern in Malawi and among donors about arbitrary arrests and detention for many years. The concern continues.

Respect for human rights is a fundamental tenet of international law. It is recognised as a legitimate matter for members of the international community to raise. Malawi's record on human rights, despite a number of private pleas from its friends, has not been good. EC member states have long been unanimous that anxieties about the shortcomings in respect of Malawi's human rights record should be conveyed to the Malawian Government.

So far as we are aware, there are no longer any detainees against whom preventive detention orders have been made. But I must tell your Lordships that there is still anxiety about the delays occurring between arrests and the presentation of charges. There are numerous reports of short-term detentions followed by release without charge.

My noble friend Lady Elles and the right reverend Prelate both spoke, as did other noble Lords, about Mr. Chihana. That is a cause of great anxiety to many. I understand that Mr. Chihana has lodged an appeal against his conviction and sentence of two years' imprisonment following his conviction on charges of sedition. We protested to the Malawian Government about his detention at the time of his original arrest. Following his re-arrest, after speaking with the BBC World Service, we informed them that his detention was a flagrant violation of the fundamental human right to the freedom of expression.

It was, I believe, my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, who outlined so clearly the sorts of basic freedoms that one looks for in these countries and in all countries across the world. It is right that we should point out these problems. It is no good trying to bury them as if they did not exist. That is why we sincerely hope that at a time when the Government of Malawi are conducting a referendum on the very issues for which Chihana was arrested, his appeal will be considered in the light of a new era in Malawi.

There has been reference to the arrest on Sunday night of the Reverend Peter Kaleso, a leading member of the Alliance for Democracy. Today I came across some papers which worried me very much. It is all very well for the commissioner of police in the central region to tell the district chairman of AFORD that permission had been granted for public meetings to be held on open ground in BEWA triangle on 24th January 1993. However, he goes on to say, We would like to inform you that the Reverends Kaleso and A. L. Longwe should be deleted from the list of main speakers". As members of your Lordships' House will know, they were the main speakers. It was immediately following that that Mr. Kaleso was detained.

These are problems that go on all the time, and they will not be cured quickly. I believe that the referendum holds a key to the future. I think that that is generally accepted by all those, particularly my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, who have sought to explain the real situation in the world today to those who perhaps do not understand it in the way that we all take for granted.

The decision to suspend certain types of aid was not taken lightly, or in isolation. The Malawian Government were fully aware of donors' concerns when the consultative group meeting took place in Paris in 1992. Our own bilateral programme aid had been reduced from £10 million to £5 million the previous year with a clear warning that further cuts would follow if Malawi's human rights record did not improve. But the Government of Malawi gave little indication of their preparedness to address the issues and so the following year new balance of payments aid was suspended altogether. The decision was not that of Her Majesty's Government alone. It was reached together with our EC partners and other donors, including the United States, after long and careful deliberation, and a consistent donor approach has been maintained since.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about the World Bank. Perhaps I may say that in respect of all countries, not just Malawi, we consider the projects in the World Bank board on their technical and economic basis, as required by the Bank's articles of agreement. But in the consultative group we are in very close touch with other donors, whether it be the Malawian consultative group or others, and certainly we wish consultative groups to be a success; otherwise they take a lot of time to no avail. That is why, when a new consultative group is called for Malawi, I sincerely hope the donors will feel fully able to make new pledges, but we are not quite yet at that stage.

As both the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, and my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich said, the effects of the economy over recent years have been very dire for Malawi. Whereas Malawi's GDP grew in 1991, it fell by a similar amount in 1992. The drought and the low tobacco prices were the main reasons. I agree, however, that the suspension of programme aid from bilateral donors played a part and will have an even bigger impact in 1993 if we cannot restore it.

The shortage of foreign exchange obviously affects the private sector and it damages business confidence. However, I repeat that it is not our wish to damage Malawi's economy. We believe that good government is crucial to Malawi's long-term prosperity. That is why we wish to see it.

The donors tried dialogue before imposing restrictions on aid. Unfortunately, in those days it had little effect. Since the restrictions were imposed we have seen some good progress. We are keen to see even greater progress, and the key to unlocking further aid is in the hands of the Government of Malawi.

It is also important to recognise that the donors sought to make a balanced response in May last year. It was designed to send a clear message to the government while at the same time continuing to help the poor in Malawi. We did not cut all aid. Far from it. The UK withheld new balance of payments aid and suspended certain other forms of aid. But we have diverted much of the money saved into humanitarian assistance, which was badly needed last year because of the drought. I am referring to the needs of Malawian people in Malawi. Indeed, we committed £10 million of such humanitarian aid for Malawi, much of it through British NGOs which do such an admirable job. In addition, we gave £1.8 million pounds of aid for Mozambican refugees in Malawi. We believe that helping them eases the pressure which there has undoubtedly been on the people of Malawi, although not quite in the way which my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve indicated.

We are prepared to respond to urgent appeals for help. Late last year, as my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich said, Malawi was running very short of medicines and President Banda appealed to me directly. We responded very quickly with an allocation of £0.5 million, channelled through UNICEF. In addition, we expect to spend about £12.5 million this financial year on our regular ODA programme, and we shall continue to prepare projects on health, education, forestry and rural water supplies, which are of direct benefit to poor people.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked me whether I thought that humanitarian aid was being siphoned off. I do not believe that it is. I have no evidence to that effect. If the noble Lord has any documents or anxieties about that point I hope that he will write to me.

All members of the international community have continued to monitor developments in Malawi very closely over the past year since that consultative group meeting. Throughout that period we have maintained a dialogue with the Malawian Government, and I am glad to see the High Commissioner in the Gallery tonight. At the specific request of the Malawian Government the European Community has detailed a number of outstanding concerns and issues which still need to be addressed. Such issues, as my noble friend Lady Elles mentioned, relate particularly to police accountability and freedom of expression. Those concerns do not represent the introduction of a new agenda. They are wholly consistent with the Community's original objectives in seeking an improvement in the Malawian Government's approach to human rights.

We are not seeking to impose on Malawi a particular form of government or set of institutions which conform to a western model, but we do seek a political and legal framework which safeguards human rights, basic freedoms and political accountability in that context. That is why I so appreciated the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth when she spoke of the conditions for restoring development aid being a free media, ensuring that opposition groups were not intimidated, that people were freely and fairly treated before the law, and a truly free referendum.

I should like to clarify one point which is sometimes misunderstood, perhaps not in this debate but certainly in the press and elsewhere. Neither we nor any of our European partners are seeking to impose multi-party democracy. We welcome the decision to hold the referendum on that question as one means of responding to donor concerns. The referendum was not a condition of the donors; it was an initiative of Dr. Banda. It is for the people of Malawi to decide whether they wish to continue with the one-party system. We shall not interfere in the debate. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve talk of the free and fair conduct of the referendum. How much I agree with what she said and how important it is that that is internationally recognised and respected throughout Malawi. I hope that international monitors will be able to give a report of a free and fair referendum after 15th March.

However, the referendum process does encapsulate many of the key human rights issues which the donors have been discussing with Malawi. The manner in which the referendum is carried out will have a crucial impact on the confidence attached to the result. That is why I say that provided the referendum is held in conditions which are acceptable we will accept the result. It is vital for Malawi that the referendum has both the support of the advocates of democratic change and is conducted in accordance with internationally accepted standards and practices. United Nations support for the referendum will be essential to establish its credibility in the eyes of the international community.

We are concerned therefore that having sought UN support to provide a report on the conduct of the referendum, President Banda appears to have rejected or significantly modified some key proposals made by the United Nations: for example, whether the use of a "yes" box and a separate "no" ballot box can be regarded as a fair and secure system. The question of registration of voters is also critical, as is the membership of the referendum commission, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. We very much hope that agreement can be reached with the UN. For the Government of Malawi to proceed without the approval of the UN, having requested its involvement, would carry little credibility with the donors. On the other hand, if agreement can be reached, I am sure that we and other donors will respond generously to any call to provide observers and other practical help for the referendum. We will recognise the result and we will respond accordingly provided the human rights record remains good.

Now that a referendum has been announced it would truly be helpful if the Malawi Government did not publicly denounce all those advocating a change to the one party state as "dissidents" and their pamphlets as "seditious". Application of the current legislation on sedition and detention during the referendum campaign will be watched carefully by outside observers, in particular by your Lordships' House.

Malawi has taken steps to address donors' concerns. I have paid tribute previously to that. Let me do so again. It allows the International Committee of the Red Cross access to Malawian prisons. It has released a number of long-term political detainees. It has introduced legislation to amend the Preservation of Public Security Act to enable those detained under the Act a right of appeal. It has amended the Forfeiture Act to allow persons arrested under the Act to prove their innocence. It has amended the penal code to reduce sentence for those accused of producing news reports damaging to Malawi from life sentence to five years. We welcome those steps. However, our dialogue must continue with the Government of Malawi about matters on which we and our European partners hope to see further progress.

I do not underestimate the distance that the Government of Malawi have already travelled. Over the past six months the Government have taken repeated steps to address the international donor communities' concerns. The release of a number of long-term political detainees—most recently on Sunday Vera Chirwa—is a welcome step forward, as was the agreement to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect prisons. However, I hope that in the coming months the Malawian authorities will continue to co-operate fully with any proposals, for instance, that the International Committee of the Red Cross may make with a view to improving the penal system in Malawi. That is a crucial step that must continue. It is not enough to take that action once; it has to continue.

We are watching what happens carefully. It was in response to the Malawian Government, for clarification of the issues which remained of concern to the EC representatives in Lilongwe, that we delivered an EC démarche on 20th October. That matter concerned my noble friend Lady Elles. That démarche set out those human rights issues which remain of concern, particularly police accountability and freedom of expression and association, to which the right reverend Prelate referred several times in his remarks.

The Malawian Government have formally indicated that those concerns will be addressed through the referendum process and by action which the Government of Malawi will take, following up the recommendations of the ICRC. It is those things that we shall be watching; that is what we are looking for from the Government of Malawi.

Finally, what Malawi needs now, in the climate of change and new freedom that is sweeping through Africa, is for President Banda, a leader with immense authority, to bring about the reforms that have been identified tonight and that are so badly needed.

I sincerely hope that in the months ahead we shall see clear evidence of the acceptance by the Government of Malawi of the rights of all individuals to the fundamental freedoms of speech and association and will be able to restore our normal aid relationship. The decision to restrict aid was not taken lightly, but it is right that we should not lift that restriction until there is sufficient evidence of a fundamental change of approach on human rights issues.

House adjourned at one minute past eleven o'clock.