HL Deb 28 June 2000 vol 614 cc898-900

3.5 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What changes they propose in policy towards Zimbabwe in the light of the result of the election there.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the House is well aware of the background against which parliamentary elections were held in Zimbabwe over the weekend. We admire the dignity and courage of the people of Zimbabwe in turning out to exercise their democratic rights in the face of violence and intimidation. The result is a clear message that the people want change. We hope that ZANU(PF) will respond positively to the offer from the opposition to discuss how they can work together for the people of Zimbabwe. If ZANU(PF) is willing to make a fresh start, Britain will be willing to respond.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that statement, with which I believe all noble Lords will agree. Can she add praise to the congratulations that she expressed on the courage of the MDC in particular, 35 supporters of which were killed during the election campaign? Will she also congratulate the statesmanlike position taken by Mr Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC?

In so far as action taken by other countries in this fraught and unstable situation can be helpful, does the noble Baroness agree that there is much to be said for action being taken internationally by the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United Nations rather than by the United Kingdom alone, which seems to provoke rather prickly reactions? I do not ask the noble Baroness to tell the House about the Government's plans, but can she assure us that they have plans in place?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, is absolutely right. I believe we all agree that the way forward is through concerted international action. The fact that a Commonwealth mission and a European Union mission led the 400-strong team of international observers which played a role in helping through the process in Zimbabwe during the elections over the weekend has shown that this is the way forward. We are awaiting the final report from the EU mission, which was led by Pierre Schori, who has already appeared on the media and publicised an interim report. We are also waiting for the final report from the Commonwealth mission led by General Abubakar. They have both done a very good job. We await to hear the results and to see political developments in Zimbabwe. We are prepared to help in any process that will aid the economic, political and democratic future of Zimbabwe.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I too respect Mr Tsvangirai for the position he has taken and for the restraint he has shown in interviews after the election when tempers are high. However, does the Minister agree that economic crisis is looming in Zimbabwe? Although ZANU(PF) may have won the elections, change will almost certainly be brought about by the economic situation. I hope that the Minister will ensure that Britain takes a leading role in doing nothing to precipitate an economic crisis which would affect the people of Zimbabwe far more than the ruling party.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, we have kept in touch with Morgan Tsvangirai. As noble Lords are aware, the Movement for Democratic Change will contest the outcome of a number of seats, perhaps 22 of them. That may include the seat which Mr Tsvangirai failed to win. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is right to mention the economic problems which face Zimbabwe. I refer to the following frightening statistics: 80 per cent inflation; 50 per cent unemployment; and interest rates of 70 per cent. It is absolutely vital that the economy of Zimbabwe is helped. It is also important that the new government of Zimbabwe, working with the Parliament, should not discourage any foreign investment on which Zimbabwe's prosperity depends.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords—

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservative Front Bench.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, without pressing the noble Baroness on the detail, and recognising that these are early days, I ask her whether she recalls that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said the other day that he would mount an international campaign to put pressure on President Mugabe to implement the will of the people. Can the noble Baroness give us an idea of his allies in that campaign, which seems to me to be utterly the right way forward? What rapid international action can we take to save the entire economy from sliding into the chaos which the noble Baroness has already indicated lies ahead? On a more specific point, can she say something about the British military advisers to the army of Zimbabwe, of which President Mugabe is the commander? Is it planned to leave them in place or to withdraw them?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a series of questions. As I have already said, we shall work in conjunction with both our European Union partners and the Commonwealth. Both those organisations will have a great role to play to try to help Zimbabwe along the path that we would all like it to follow. Noble Lords will understand that I am trying to choose my words extremely carefully as we do not wish to sound too critical or to anticipate problems that we hope will not arise if things develop according to the comments in the televised statesmanlike public address that President Mugabe gave yesterday.

The noble Lord asked a specific question about the British military training team in Harare and the advisers. There are five military advisers providing peacekeeping training to the Southern African Development Community region. Three other advisers are involved in peacekeeping training in support of UN priorities. As the noble Lord knows, they are in Harare. The British military advisory training team is based there but it focuses on regional peacekeeping training within the whole development community. The courses are held across southern Africa and at the moment we have no specific plans to change things.

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