HL Deb 25 July 2000 vol 616 cc279-81

2.53 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are content with the state of relations with Zimbabwe.

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

My Lords, given the long, shared history between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe, we are disappointed that our relations with that country are going through a difficult phase. Zimbabwe is facing a number of economic and social challenges which require an urgent common effort. In the event of real reform, which reflects the people of Zimbabwe's clear desire for change, Britain will be ready to build a new relationship with the new Zimbabwe government.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. I believe that noble Lords will agree with the sentiments she expressed. Is there not one person outside Zimbabwe who, more than anyone else, has the potential to influence events in Zimbabwe in a helpful manner? I refer to President Mbeki of South Africa. When the Prime Minister met Mr Mbeki in Japan last week, was that not a good opportunity for him to raise the question of Zimbabwe, bearing in mind that the situation in that country is still serious and could become catastrophic? Did the Prime Minister raise that matter with Mr Mbeki and what was the result?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that there has been ongoing contact with Zimbabwe, particularly in relation to President Mbeki's efforts. I cannot tell the noble Lord the exact nature of conversations that occurred in Japan, but I undertake to write to him in relation to that matter. It is right to say that our partners in Africa have played a helpful and significant role and we certainly expect them to continue to work closely with us.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, when will President Mugabe be required to recall the parliament of Zimbabwe, which was elected in the last week of May, rather than govern by using his presidential powers? Can the Government make any representations in this matter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, there is a set timetable for recalling parliament. At the moment, the Zimbabwe government are working within that. I am not able to give the noble Duke a specific date for when the parliament will be recalled. However, if it goes beyond that date, those matters will be raised.

Lord Richard

My Lords, does my noble friend's answer mean that the Government would be prepared to resume aid to Zimbabwe provided that we were satisfied with the circumstances in which that aid was deployed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the challenges of Zimbabwe are clear. We have had close contact with all sides of the debate in Zimbabwe. We have met parties and made very clear the basis on which Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to help Zimbabwe in relation to the recovery. If Zimbabwe's government show themselves to be serious in relations to those conditions, we have made it clear that we would be willing to consider how that help could be more easily given.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, many of us have great sympathy with those in Zimbabwe, both black and white, who are calling for the return of democracy and who have suffered greatly in doing so. In view of the rather biting criticism of committees of another place, can the Minister give an assurance that we will consider carefully the supply of any further arms to Zimbabwe, given the way in which the Hawk spares were used in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can certainly say that the embargo is in place. It will continue to be in place for so long as we reasonably believe that it is necessary. We shall look very carefully at the way in which Zimbabwe behaves before any change occurs in relation to that position.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, given that the rule of law continues to be flouted in Zimbabwe and, as we have just heard, the parliament that was elected has not been recalled, might this not be a instance where for once quiet diplomacy is not the answer but a time when the Movement for Democratic Change must be greatly reinforced and Mr Mugabe put more on his guard by strong calls for the upholding of the rule of law? Cannot the Commonwealth, Mr Mbeki and others be prevailed upon to raise their voices in support of democracy and the rule of law so as to give some hope to people that they will be able to outwit Mr Mugabe's dislike for law and his determination to carry on with the present chaos?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I understand the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. This Government, in all that they have done in the past few months, have made absolutely clear to Mr Mugabe the importance we place on the rule of law. I should also like noble Lords to take into account the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who spoke to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on 18th July, made clear that the opposition are seeking to work with the government to ensure that democracy prevails and also that the opposition wish to act in a constructive manner. If we wish to see a strong Zimbabwe we have to honour the indications to us while of course continuing to emphasise that the rule of law is of the utmost importance.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, if the situation were to improve, as the noble Baroness has indicated the £32 million compensation for land redistribution could then be made available. Given that many farm workers stand to lose considerably as a result of any land redistribution, will they be compensated under that package?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a specific response. However, I can say that a policy of continuing compulsory uncompensated land acquisition will do nothing to foster the sense of unity that President Mugabe wishes to see and spoke of in his address to the nation on 27th June. Furthermore, that policy will not help the economy, which is already in crisis. We recognise the importance and urgency of the land issue, but any resettlement will need to be arranged in a way that is acceptable to all concerned and that minimises the impact on Zimbabwe's already beleaguered economy. In that context, we very much hope that such issues will be taken into account.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the Government are in contact with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank? Have any plans been drawn up for decisions to be taken during the period of the Summer Recess? The coming six weeks will be a critical time, not only for the white farmers, but also for the unfortunate farm workers who stand to lose all they have: their livelihoods, their homes, schools and hospitals. That could happen during the weeks when we are not here. What plans have been made?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the IMF will apply the rules it customarily applies. It will take into consideration all proper matters. That is what we would reasonably expect it to do.