HL Deb 06 April 1998 vol 588 cc500-2

2.52 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to encourage democracy in Zambia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, FCO officials have regular contacts with the Zambian Government at all levels and with parliamentarians, the judiciary, the independent commissions, non-governmental organisations and the media. We encourage democratic principles through these contacts and through targeted use of our programme budgets and sponsored visits. During our EU presidency we have made representations to the Zambian Government about good governance and human rights, and will continue to do so. We made representations about the imposition of the state of emergency, and on 18th March the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Lloyd, welcomed the lifting of that state of emergency on behalf of the EU.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her response. Does she agree that the plight of Zambia is that of a country spending four times as much on debt as on health? What are the Government doing to encourage greater democratic activity in Zambia, specifically in the context of the local government elections due to be held this year? Will the Government be encouraging UNIP to stand in those elections? What will the Government do to ensure the elections are free and fair and that there is free assembly while they take place?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we acknowledge some advances in recent years, in particular the move to multi-party democracy and administrative reforms such as that reducing opportunities for corruption. We encourage the Zambian Government to continue their efforts to further the democratic process and enter into meaningful and inclusive dialogue with other political parties in Zambia by creating an atmosphere that allows such talks to take place. We act in a variety of ways, for example, through the programme budgets, sponsored visits and other means.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the current legal situation in relation to former President Kaunda?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the former president is no longer in prison but is under house arrest. As I understand it, he has been formally charged with concealment of treachery. I believe that it would be wrong for us to discuss the charge against him as the matter is sub judice at the moment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, will my noble friend make representations to the Zambian Government that former President Kaunda and the others who have been charged should be brought to trial speedily and that the trial should be open and transparent so that any evidence that may be led against those charged can be properly tested in open court?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have no special brief for Dr. Kaunda. Our concern is for all the detainees. Of course, former President Kaunda is an elderly man of 73 and probably requires special consideration. We welcomed the intervention of former President Nyerere with President Chiluba which led to the decision to transfer Dr. Kaunda from prison to house arrest. Of the 104 detainees who were held without charge for three months, we understand that 82 have now been charged and the remainder released.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, my noble friend has not been in this House very long. Will she please learn that at the age of 73 one is not "an elderly man"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, when I first came to your Lordships' House one of its more distinguished Members referred to me as "little girl". I pointed out to him that for a woman in her mid-40s that was an unusual epithet. He responded that when I reached 85 I and other women of that age were little girls. I apologise if I have offended noble Lords by describing anyone aged 73 as anything other than distinguished.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, are the Government considering participating in any debt forgiveness in Zambia? If so, why? What would be the purpose of forgiving the debts of a country which last year borrowed an additional 800 million dollars? Is that not like giving Alka Seltzer to an alcoholic to enable him to hit the bottle faster and harder in the future?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I believe is well known, Her Majesty's Government are considering a wide range of countries for debt forgiveness. In so doing we are looking at a country's record in terms of democracy or its move towards democracy. There are also questions about aid. Aid donors are coming together next month to consider whether there should be a move forward in relation to Zambia following the lifting of the state of emergency in the past month.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in Zambia the concept of democracy appears to be one that dispossesses white farmers without compensation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware that certainly there is a problem in Zimbabwe of dispossession. I hope that if there is any such problem in Zambia, of which I am unaware, those matters will be looked at by the various independent commissions that have been set up.