HL Deb 03 May 2000 vol 612 cc1030-41

4.2 p.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement on the situation in Zimbabwe which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"Yesterday I attended the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. I am pleased to report to the House that the meeting endorsed all our concerns. In particular the meeting recorded 'deep concern' over the continuing violence, the illegal occupations, the failure to uphold the rule of law and political intimidation. It demanded fair elections within the time required by the constitution of Zimbabwe.

"The meeting agreed that the Commonwealth Secretary-General should visit Harare urgently in order to bring home to the Government of Zimbabwe and to make clear to the people of Zimbabwe the concerns of the Commonwealth.

"I spoke in advance to most of the Ministers present yesterday and I am pleased at the universal agreement they gave at the meeting to our concerns. The outcome exposes the efforts of President Mugabe to pretend that only Britain is critical of the conduct of his government. All Britain's concerns have now been supported by a body representing all of the Commonwealth and chaired by one of the neighbours of Zimbabwe.

"A major reason why we received ready support yesterday was the recognition that Britain had taken every reasonable step to find agreement with the Government of Zimbabwe on a fair programme of land reform. At my meeting last week with the ministerial delegation, I confirmed that Britain was ready to help to fund land reform and that we were willing to take the lead in mobilising funding from other partners such as the World Bank, the European Commission and the United States.

"However, neither Britain nor any other donor is going to fund a programme of land reform unless it is conducted within the rule of law; it is based on a fair price to the farmer; and it reduces poverty among the rural poor who have no land.

"Ministers in Zimbabwe have complained that Britain is imposing colonial conditions. There is nothing new about these conditions. They were all in the conclusions of the 1998 Land Conference which was hosted and chaired by the Government of Zimbabwe itself.

"Nevertheless last week the Zimbabwean delegation failed to give a commitment to bring the farm occupations to an end. I made clear that in those circumstances Britain could not take further any support for land reform.

"Since that meeting I have briefed Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition movement. I have also spoken to Mr Henwood of the Commercial Farmers' Union, who has supported the firm line we took on conditions for any help with land reform.

"If the Government of Zimbabwe are genuinely committed to land reform, the way is open for them to make progress with international support.

"I am sorry to say that the events of the past two weeks, and President Mugabe's inflammatory speech earlier today, suggest that the Government of Zimbabwe are interested in the issue of land reform only to create a condition of crisis in which they can secure their re-election.

"The whole House will deplore the mounting evidence of political intimidation of the people of Zimbabwe. Opposition campaigners have been ambushed and beaten up. Commercial companies which display opposition posters have had their properties firebombed. Rural communities have been threatened that it will be known which ballot box came from their village. By the end of the past month of election campaigning 14 political activists had been murdered, all of them supporters of the opposition.

"No election can be fair unless there is an election campaign free from intimidation. At the meeting yesterday we agreed that the Commonwealth should send election observers to Zimbabwe, and our Statement stresses that they must be admitted as early as possible. At the weekend I will be seeking the same demand from the European Union for early entry of European observers. While the primary responsibility for ending the violence rests with the Government of Zimbabwe, the presence of international observers may help to deter some of the brutality of recent weeks and may give some confidence to those who want free expression for their views.

"In the present circumstances of spreading violence we have resolved that from today Britain will refuse all new export licence applications for arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe. That will include all licences for spare parts in connection with previous contracts such as Hawk aircraft. We are urgently reviewing all existing export licences to Zimbabwe.

"Further, I can inform the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has suspended the programme to support the supply of Land Rovers to the Zimbabwean police. As a result, the supply of the remaining 450 has been halted and will not be resumed unless there is a clear determination by the Zimbabwean police to restore the rule of law.

"Britain is willing to help, in the right conditions, with the economic and land problems of Zimbabwe. Britain has also taken the lead in mobilising international pressure for free elections.

"But no Member of the House would want to approach our discussion on the basis of President Mugabe's claim that the solution to the problems in Zimbabwe lies in London. It does not. Zimbabwe has been independent for 20 years and President Mugabe has been in power for every one of them. In that time he has already received over —500 million of development aid from Britain.

"It is Zimbabwe's choice what its future will be. That must, though, not be the choice of the Government of Zimbabwe alone. It must be the free choice of the people of Zimbabwe through fair elections without violence, without intimidation and without fear. That was the united message from the Commonwealth yesterday. I ask this House to send the same united message today to the majority of the people of Zimbabwe who want to live in a free democracy and to be protected by the rule of law."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.11 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place about the shocking situation in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe should be one of the jewels of Africa. The country is fertile and rich in natural resources. It has an intelligent and educated population, some of the most efficient farming in the world, a judiciary that throughout the recent descent into lawlessness has remained robustly independent in its adherence to the law and the constitution, and a vibrant desire among the people for democracy and for the control of their own destiny.

We have all admired the courage of those in the opposition parties who have remained undaunted by a ruthless and systematic programme of brutal intimidation by murder and violence that at least has been countenanced, if not organised, by the governing regime. It is intolerable that a country that has been blessed with so much should be brought to its current pass by the savage acts of one man and his acolytes.

Although everyone accepts that land reform is important and that Britain should play its part, this is not about land, but an ageing despot who is clinging to power. Does the Minister agree that. Britain certainly should not give further financial support for land reform without guarantees of lawful and ordered change and before receiving a full account of where the £10 million of taxpayers' money given to the Harare government last year has gone? We welcome the Government's refusal to issue further licences for military exports.

The overwhelming priority is that the elections should be held as soon as possible and that they should be open and fair. We welcome the decision of the Commonwealth to send observers to oversee the election process. However, what does the phrase, "Observers should be admitted as soon as possible" actually mean? Does the Minister not think that the delays so far have already seriously compromised any elections, as my noble friend Lord Blaker wrote in The Times this week? Furthermore, does the Minister agree with the two supporters of the Movement. for Democratic Change who were quoted in today's Independent calling for the observers to come now, and not just on election day when it will be too late? Everyone knows that much of the violence is geared towards intimidating future voters. To show the seriousness with which the Commonwealth views these events, will the Minister support an international group of "eminent persons" to head the observers' mission?

Noble Lords will be pleased to learn that at last the Commonwealth has been mobilised to this cause. Does the Minister accept that the Foreign Secretary's first move to engage the European Union in pressuring Mugabe was a false step? There are many instances where the European Union is the right vehicle for action, but it is hard to imagine anything more calculated to entrench Mugabe than the spectacle of all the former colonial powers ganging together against him. It was always obvious that the Commonwealth was the right family of nations to take action here. Why did it take so long to get involved? Does the Minister agree that yesterday the Ministerial Action Group should at least have started the process of suspending the Mugabe regime from the Commonwealth, as many people in Zimbabwe, both black and white, would wish?

Surely it is ironic that it was the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, who chaired the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which suspended Nigeria in 1995. That decision removed the veneer of respectability from a dictatorial regime and helped to bring that country back to democracy and the rule of law.

I hope the Minister will agree that all people have the right to a democratic government. I am sure that she will recognise the fact that any policy which showed double standards in tolerating different levels of legitimacy would be both condescending and unacceptable.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and say that we on these Benches warmly approve of the policies of Her Majesty's Government. The Foreign Secretary has handled this issue as well as he possibly could by giving the Zimbabweans a chance to comply with the conditions which they themselves had set. The Minister pointed that out in the Statement. That was the right course of action and it was not until after that meeting that it was appropriate and proper for the matter to be laid before the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. In any case, the UK did not arrange the timing of yesterday's CMAG meeting. It was organised some time ago and it was fortuitous that the meeting took place just before a ministerial Statement could be made.

However, that was no reason why the Foreign Secretary should not have taken up these matters with the European Union as well. Surely we should seek for the world community to back the moves now being made. Although we should be pleased with the steps taken at the CMAG meeting yesterday, that should be without prejudice to any further steps that the Foreign Secretary may decide to take in enlisting the support of the European Union for the same policies; that is to say, we should continue to support any measures as regards land reform that comply with the conditions laid down in 1998. If those conditions are satisfied, we should help Zimbabwe to lay a case before the international financial institutions in support of a much larger programme than could be achieved if Zimbabwe tries to undertake the entire task on its own.

Perhaps I may turn to the matter of the election. I, too, welcome the intention of Mr Don McKinnon to go to Zimbabwe to assess the position. However, can the Minister say whether it would be possible for the Commonwealth to do what it has done on previous occasions; namely, to form an opinion beforehand as to whether the conditions exist in which free and fair elections can take place? That happened in the case of the presidential election in Cameroon after a mission had been sent by the secretariat to observe the parliamentary elections. It was concluded, from observations of the conditions under which those elections were held, that it was impossible for the presidential election to be free and fair. I do not wish to prejudge what might be said about the conditions in Zimbabwe. However, two separate statements have been issued, the first from Amnesty International—the noble Baroness has probably seen it already—in which it comments that the failure to condemn and curb acts of violence has led to a state of affairs where people's freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been seriously constrained. Secondly, the committee for the protection of journalists has produced a similar statement about the lack of freedom of the press in Zimbabwe and the intimidation of the non state-owned press.

If it is found that it is no longer possible for people to express themselves or for the MDC to campaign freely and to hold election meetings—the Minister referred to the 14 members who have already been murdered—then it would not be right for us to send a mission simply to look at the mechanics of polling day. By then it would already be too late. Can the Minister ensure that this point is made to Mr Don McKinnon so that during his visit, or in any further inquiries he may make, he can ensure that the Commonwealth should now form an opinion about whether the right conditions exist in Zimbabwe for free and fair elections to be held? If not, we should not endorse the process by sending observers simply to watch what happens on polling day.

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have spoken in support of the Statement and say straightaway that the Commonwealth clearly understands the acute nature of the problem with which it is faced. The fact that the Secretary-General, Mr Don McKinnon, is going to Zimbabwe this month sends a strong message from the Commonwealth. We hope that that gives us an opportunity to see and understand exactly what is happening on the ground.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, as to how soon the observers will go to Zimbabwe, "as soon as practicable" means exactly that. We are going a s fast as we can. It is a matter of great urgency and importance. The necessary vigour is being applied with great energy.

The noble Baroness also mentioned aid. It should be understood that we want to make it clear to the people of Zimbabwe that it is Mr Mugabe and his actions at which the international community feels anger and distress, not the people of Zimbabwe, who are suffering greatly. Large sums in aid go to relieve the poverty which exists in the country. The noble Baroness will know that 25 per cent of the people of Zimbabwe are HIV positive. A huge amount of the money given is to relieve that acute situation. Cutting off such aid will serve only to feed Mr Mugabe's rhetoric that Britain is interested only in the politics and not in the people. So we shall not go down that road.

But I say this also: this Government have looked for support in responding to Zimbabwe's needs from wherever we could obtain it. We have excited support from the Commonwealth, from the EU, from our US partners and others. We express gratitude for the support that has been given internationally to Zimbabwe. I do not accept for a moment that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was wrong to ask for EU support. I remind the House that we seek its support in relation to the observer status; we shall seek its support in relation to land reform, and we need to take all our friends with us. Therefore, in making overtures to the EU, we in no way impeded the similarly strong overtures (which have borne great fruit) which were being made simultaneously to our Commonwealth partners. It was a multi-pronged approach and, with the grace of God, it bore fruit. That is something for which I give thanks, not criticism.

There is still much to do. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all the efforts made by those in opposition in Zimbabwe who have shown great courage. Zimbabwe is lucky that it has people of worth both in its opposition and in its judiciary who still understand the meaning of democracy and the rule of law. We shall give them our support.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I welcome the Statement made by my noble friend. In particular I welcome the announcement that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth is to go to Harare and, further, that efforts are to be made to ensure that a Commonwealth team is there as soon as possible.

All of that is good news. But my noble friend's response on when we approached our Commonwealth colleagues is far from satisfactory. I am all for mobilising, in support of democracy anywhere, those who can help; in particular, I have no objection to the European Union helping if we feel that that is the most appropriate forum, or, for that matter, international monetary and other organisations as mentioned in the recent letter of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. But it takes a bit of explaining as to why the, Commonwealth was the last, rather than the first, of the international organisations to be approached when it has the unique advantage (from our point of view and that of Zimbabwe) in that we are both members of the Commonwealth.

The ministerial advisory committee was set up at the last CHOGM deliberately to keep an ongoing watch on threats to democracy and human rights in Commonwealth countries. Why then have we been so slow in turning to what is undoubtedly the best bet?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's anxiety but can only repeat what I said earlier. Our Commonwealth partners were by no means the last to be approached.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Mr Hain have been vigorous in the moves they have taken and the conversations they have had in relation to our partners within the Commonwealth. We approached a plethora of people at the same time and if it has been inferred that the Commonwealth was the last to be approached, I regret to say that that is the wrong inference; it was not.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what the position of the British military training team is?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the British Military Advisory Training Team is based in Harare. It focuses on regional peacekeeping training within the southern African development community countries. The training strengthens African forces' capacity to participate in all aspects of peacekeeping operations. Courses include modules on conflict prevention and dispute resolution; human rights and international humanitarian law; the rights of the child; democratic control of armed forces; the structure of the UN and civil/military co-ordination; for example, with the ICRC. The modules also include training in democratic policing. The courses have been held across southern Africa and are of great value.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I join in welcoming the Statement repeated by the Minister and, more particularly, the Commonwealth's statement yesterday. On the subject of land reform, is the Minister aware of why the land that has already been bought by the Zimbabwean Government for redistribution to the peasant farmers has so far been distributed to President Mugabe's personal friends and senior civil servants?

The Minister said that Zimbabwe has received in excess of £500 million in aid. My understanding is that Her Majesty's Government have so far given in excess of £45 million for land reform since independence. Is the Minister aware of where that money has gone? Is there any way in which President Robert Mugabe's foreign assets can be frozen?

Finally, there is no doubt that the current instability in Zimbabwe has had a knock-on effect on the entire region of southern Africa. Are any measures being taken to appoint an African leader to mediate in this crisis?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the last point first. It is right to tell your Lordships that that position is being looked at. We have been warmed by the whole-hearted support that we received from our African colleagues. It is essential that they are part of the lead in responding to Zimbabwe's need.

It is right also that to date we have contributed £44 million to a land reform programme. One of the hot issues currently between Mr Mugabe and ourselves is how that money has been expended and who now occupies that land. There are pressing questions about why members of his government and others seem to have acquired a lot of the land. This Government have been absolutely clear that no more money will be given until we have a transparent system that guarantees that the land goes to those who most need and deserve it. That is one of the challenges with which Her Majesty's Government and all our international partners who are joining with us are faced and now have to deal.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, I should like warmly to welcome the Statement repeated by my noble friend and to do so without the rather grudging, carping criticism that was attached to the welcome extended by the noble Lord, Lord Shore. Does my noble friend agree with me that the response is necessarily proportionate to the indolence of President Mugabe in the face of the deteriorating circumstances and that, therefore, having tried reasonable argument, the Government are quite right proportionately to increase their response?

I turn briefly to the question of elections. Is my noble friend aware that a number of Members on this side of the House will be predisposed to agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, regarding the necessary pre-conditions for free and fair elections? It is all very well having the incantation of free and fair elections, but if there has already been so much intimidation, is my noble friend satisfied that the Commonwealth Secretary General will be able to establish whether we are in a state to have those free and fair elections? Is she equally satisfied that the necessary steps for getting constituencies and registers to enable those elections to take place have been finalised? When my noble friend last repeated a Statement a few weeks ago, that was an issue upon which she was not able to assure the House absolutely.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I welcome everything said by my noble friend and understand his concerns. Of course, we need to establish what the facts are on the ground. I should not like to pre-judge what the Secretary-General, Mr McKinnon, will find when he visits the area. However, I can say that he and all those who participated in the CMAG meeting have a very clear understanding of the position in Zimbabwe to date. They will be looking with a keen eye to see what needs to be done hereafter. They are judgments, and the concerns that have been expressed are valid. But those judgments will have to be made. I am sorry that I cannot give a clearer expression in that respect, but the issues are not clear in themselves.

We have not been advised of a final position in relation to those elections. However, we are receiving a clear steer from the Opposition, who are in agreement with the process that we are adopting. They are also in agreement with the strategy that has been adopted in the Commonwealth and elsewhere and have given their assent to this being the most appropriate way forward. That lead is something upon which we seek to rely.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the deployment of the Commonwealth resource at this stage is extremely welcome, although, in my view, a little belated? I cannot help but share the view of my noble friend Lady Rawlings that the involvement of the EU is not perhaps so appropriate and that we would be wiser to listen to the advice of those who say that this matter should be settled in an African context. Indeed, wise voices are saying so. I believe that we should listen to them most carefully.

Does the Minister also agree that, after the farmers and the poor, tragic state of Zimbabwe, the worst loser in this whole tragedy could be South Africa; indeed, the whole of southern Africa and its development? We could see such a situation because, first, global investors are rushing to take their money out of the whole region; and, secondly, the habit of land reform by violence could spread to neighbouring countries. Therefore, can the noble Baroness reassure us that the Secretary of State is in constant and continuous dialogue with leaders like Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders, but particularly those in South Africa, to bring home the point that, whatever the divided opinions on land reform may be, the rule of law is their friend and the rule of anarchy is their deadly enemy?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. As was said in the Statement, I should emphasise that the major reason for our receiving support yesterday was the recognition that Britain had taken every reasonable step to find agreement with the Government of Zimbabwe on a fair programme of land reform. That was very important with our African colleagues. They recognised that we had behaved absolutely properly and with integrity.

Our African colleagues also understand the possibilities of the ricochet effect of things happening in Zimbabwe adversely affecting the rest of Africa. That has led to real understanding. It is of course important that this matter should be settled in an African context. However, I should emphasise that that must happen with the help and support of their international friends, including the EU, ourselves, America and anyone else who will support them in this endeavour. Africa must have, and, indeed, seeks, those friends. The work that we are doing is in unison with them. We believe that that is a way in which we shall be able to garner support together and, it is to be hoped, bring this matter to a successful conclusion.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, on the timing issues, does the Minister agree that one of the important aspects of a Commonwealth observer group is the in-depth analysis and pointers for the future which make an independent opinion so vital under all circumstances? Having said that, is the Minister aware that the army's absentee vote is already being placed into urban constituencies where the greatest opposition lies?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I understand the noble Viscount's concerns. It is important for the observers to have an in-depth, independent view in relation to this matter. We are fortunate in knowing that there are many people who have a great deal of experience in this regard. We are hoping that they will join us and help to fashion the most appropriate observer group. As my right honourable friend said when delivering the Statement in another place, we are also looking to the EU and others to send observers. We hope that we will garner enough support and strength to ensure that the observers are able to do their job properly.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is it not extremely important to obtain the support of all people—that is to say, those in the Commonwealth and in the United States, as well as those in the EU? From the point of view of President Mugabe, is it not also extremely important for him to understand that the world is horrified by what has happened in Zimbabwe? Further, is it not equally wrong for my noble friend to upbraid my noble friend Lord Shore, who, like the rest of us who are friends of the people of Zimbabwe, is angered by what has happened?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly understand all noble Lords in this House who feel passionately on the subject. Indeed, that demonstrates the warmth and compassion for which this House is known. I should applaud and commend all those who express that view. I understand entirely the anger and irritation sometimes expressed that more cannot be done and more swiftly. But I wholeheartedly endorse what my noble friend said: everyone must work together. We have had very few things to be warmed by in this debate, but one of the most warming aspects is the fact that there is international consensus on this issue; and we are working together.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have spoken to friends in Zimbabwe over the past few days and they have made two things very clear to me. The first is their sense of the urgent need for the early appointment of outside observers. I was a member of the team that was sent from this Parliament to observe the elections in Zimbabwe in 1979. To begin with, we had to tell the government of the day that they were not responsible for choosing what aeroplane we travelled in and what destination we took. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that we shall ensure that any organisation undertaking outside observation will be sufficiently independent, mobile, secure in its communications and numerous to cover the whole country and give an independent view?

The second thing they bore in on me was a growing concern among black and white communities that the presence of foreign media observers—not political observers—was being used to incite some of the acts of violence so that they would have them to report. Will the noble Baroness use what offices she has through diplomatic channels to bring to the notice of the employers of those teams that this is unsatisfactory conduct? Will she answer the question of my noble friend on the Front Bench about the possible suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth? What does it have to do before it is suspended?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, in relation to the noble Lord's first point, of course we understand the importance of independence, transparency and efficacy. Those issues will be key when trying to put together an effective observer force. They will be taken fully into account.

Secondly, of course I acknowledge what the noble Lord says about the behaviour of the media. Unfortunately, we have some difficulty controlling our media here. Whether we shall have any greater effect elsewhere I cannot say, but the point is well understood.

As regards suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, noble Lords will know that before a country can be suspended from the Commonwealth it has to be demonstrated that that country has behaved unconstitutionally. Although we are horrified by what is happening in Zimbabwe, unless and until the elections are proven not to be constitutional and Zimbabwe is proven not to have a constitutional government, we would not be able to suspend it. The rules are rigid and frustrating in terms of the current situation. However, noble Lords will remember that Nigeria was suspended because it had an unconstitutional government. Zimbabwe is not yet in that position. It is certainly our hope and aspiration that it never will be; that fair elections will take place and that Zimbabwe will return a democratic, effective government who are able to express the will of the people.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will the Minister—

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I welcome the Government's efforts to try to bring stability to Zimbabwe and a return to democracy there. I think that all noble Lords on all sides of the House ought to welcome those efforts and do all that they can to complement them. It seems to me that the sole, certainly the primary, objective of President Mugabe is to keep his grip on power in Zimbabwe. His secondary interests—if he has secondary interests—are the people of Zimbabwe, the country of Zimbabwe and, a long way down the line, the white farmers of Zimbabwe.

Given those circumstances, it seems to me that President Mugabe does not care what happens in the part of the world we are discussing unless he has the complete power that he has enjoyed for so long. The worst thing that we, the Commonwealth, the Americans or the Europeans can do is to make a difficult situation that much worse. We should all try to solidify our position in as much as we want a return to democracy. We should demonstrate clearly that President Mugabe is completely isolated and we should ensure that there is a return to democracy. That is all that we want.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is quite clearly a hope and aspiration.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, will the Minister—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am sorry but we have tried to allocate the available time between the different Benches.