HL Deb 19 April 2000 vol 612 cc703-7

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made in persuading President Mugabe to restrain intimidation and violence in Zimbabwe and to fix a date for an election; and when Ministers will next meet Ministers from Zimbabwe to discuss these issues.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the House will know from yesterday's news that another Zimbabwean tragically lost his life in Zimbabwe, bringing the total, we believe, to 10 deaths over the past few weeks. We have repeatedly urged President Mugabe to restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe and to act to prevent further violence against the farmers or against those campaigning for the forthcoming elections. Parliament was dissolved on 11th April. The constitution requires elections to be held within four months of Parliament being dissolved. The date of the elections must be announced by 7th July. We hope to receive a ministerial delegation from Zimbabwe shortly after Easter to follow up President Mugabe's meeting with the Foreign Secretary in Cairo on 3rd April.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares my feelings of horror at what is going on in Zimbabwe at the moment and my sorrow for those who have been killed and for their families. Having read the article of her noble friend Lord Renwick in The Times yesterday, does the Minister agree that the most important issue is that the elections take place as she said—or next month, in fact? Does she further agree that there should be international supervision, particularly from neighbouring African countries which are members of the Commonwealth?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have no hesitation in agreeing with the noble Baroness. We have had one helpful indication from the Speaker of the House in Zimbabwe, who has welcomed international observers. The noble Baroness will know that in many African states international observers are welcomed. We certainly hope that this will be the case in Zimbabwe and that we will have fair and transparent elections.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps I may associate these Benches with the expression of sympathy of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. I am sure that the whole House extends its deep sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives, both white and black. When the Ministerial team comes from Zimbabwe, will the Foreign Office consider responding to the need for more rapid land reform, but associating that with conditions for the re-establishment of the rule of law; the holding of fair and free elections, as the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, suggested; and, of course, the calling off of the so-called war veterans—some of whom are nothing of the kind—from the intimidation of farmers, both black and white, on the land of Zimbabwe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I warmly welcome the noble Baroness's sentiments of sympathy, which I know are shared on all sides of the House and which I wholeheartedly endorse, particularly bearing in mind, as she rightly said, that the Zimbabweans who have died have been both black and white—eight black and two white—and that all are suffering equally in this terrible situation. I can reassure the noble Baroness that the anticipated Zimbabwean delegation discussions, which should take place later this month, will have a broad remit. We hope that we will be discussing many issues with our Zimbabwean colleagues in this respect—their activities in the DRC, the illegal farm invasions, land reform, economic reform, free and fair elections, and other issues. A whole plethora of issues needs to be addressed and this would be an advantageous position from which to start those discussions.

Lord Richard

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is desperately disappointing, particularly for those of us who, over the years, have had something to do with that country in its efforts to come to independence? Does she further agree that, whatever happens, the issue of land apportionment in that country is now firmly on the table and that it will have to be dealt with in one way or another? In that connection, and in connection with the violence that is now taking place, can the Minister tell us what contacts the Government are having with the farmers inside Zimbabwe? Are we receiving advice from them? Are we listening to the advice that we are receiving from them? Can the Minister tell us whether or not we agree with what the farmers are saying? Can she undertake that that at least is one group of Zimbabweans to whom she will listen?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are listening to all in relation to this terrible situation. We have made a number of contacts. I could list them but it would take rather a long time. Both my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Mr Hain, the Minister of State, have had a good deal of contact with the leaders of the opposition, who have been very clear in their expression of how we should proceed in relation to this matter. The conversation is a comprehensive one. The Government are taking an acute interest in all those who are adversely affected by what is happening now in Zimbabwe.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a large number of Africans and their families—about 16 to 20 per cent of the workforce—are employed on white-owned farms? They are resisting the attacks of the so-called veterans because they would be unemployed in the event of these farms being appropriated. Are the Government giving thought to that element in the equation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we are certainly giving thought to the plight of all Zimbabweans. I am very grateful that in this House at least there has been a proper concentration on the effect that these disputes are having on both black and white Zimbabweans. Many in Zimbabwe have said that this is being dealt with as a political issue and not as an issue of race. Many are suffering, both black and white.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, having lived and worked in Zimbabwe. I have noticed that there has been a lack of coverage of the suffering of the farm workers, hundreds of whom have lost their homes due to the actions of the war veterans. Can the Minister confirm that the underlying issue which must be addressed for the future of Zimbabwe is that of land redistribution? Will the British Government take a lead role and mobilise the donor nations in looking at this fundamental problem?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord by saying that Her Majesty's Government have always recognised the need for equitable land redistribution and have to date contributed £44 million to a land reform programme. We remain willing to support a land reform programme that is transparent, fair and cost effective and which contributes to the reduction of poverty in Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord will know, these principles were agreed by the Zimbabwean Government and international donors at the land conference held in Harare in September 1998, and we are now looking at a number of proposals submitted by the private sector and NGOs to take this issue further.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not only imperative that free and fair elections take place but that in order for that to be so progress has to be made both on the drawing up of the constituencies and the structuring of the election register? Can she give any further information to the House in order to assure noble Lords that those elections can take place in proper circumstances? Without those two elements, the elections cannot satisfy either of the necessary criteria.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have made the Government's view absolutely clear that those elections must be full and fair. We are doing all in our power to encourage the Zimbabwean regime to allow full and fair elections to take place with the assistance of observers. Obviously, Zimbabwe has an ability to make a decision for itself, but we are certainly hoping that, with the encouragement that is coming from all corners of the world and through all agencies, they will listen and we will see a full, fair and transparent system which enables good elections to take place.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, despite what was written in The Times yesterday, is it not the moment to rethink entirely the role of the Commonwealth in this situation? Is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure she is—that the ministerial action group is due to meet here very shortly? There is a view that it would be ready to send a delegation which would be received in Harare in order to look at the plight of the country and prevent it spiralling downwards. Would that not be a much better approach than getting the EU involved, which, whatever one thinks about it, is clearly an inappropriate body to deal with this very sensitive situation in the heart of Africa?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have very much welcomed assistance from whence it has come. We have had the OAU assistance and assistance from the Commonwealth states as well as from the EU. Therefore, I would not make that distinction. CMAG meets in London on 2nd and 3rd May. That will be an ideal opportunity for Ministers to consider the issue fully and to give anxious consideration to what the next steps should be.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, is there an up-to-date electoral roll in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am not able to give the noble Viscount a specific answer in relation to his question. We have not had an opportunity to interrogate it. It is an outstanding issue and we would wish to have clarification on that point.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, the Minister's noble friend Lord Renwick wrote yesterday in The Times that, Britain also has yet to take any action to show, other than rhetorically, its condemnation of what is happening. It is little use talking about an ethical foreign policy unless we intend to apply it in cases such as this". When do the Government intend to apply it to Zimbabwe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have. Both my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and Mr Hain have been very exercised about this issue. There has been regular contact. They have contacted all their international partners. It was as a result of a conversation between the Foreign Secretary and Kofi Annan on 18th April that Kofi Annan has now contacted Mr Mugabe. This Government are being more creative and more active on this issue than virtually any other country.