HL Deb 12 December 2001 vol 629 cc1311-58

3.6 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to call attention to the situation in Zimbabwe; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, for over four years, Zimbabwe has patiently and alone suffered a steady and remorseless erosion of freedom and the rule of law, and the world has done little or nothing to help a brave and decent people. As Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said: There can be no freedom where there is no rule of law, no freedom where people are not safe … Zimbabwe's strength lies in racial and ethnic diversity. We will overcome attempts to divide us, we want national integration. We are not interested in racism in reverse". There, from a respected trade union leader, we hear that those fighting the battle for democracy and the rule of law are ordinary Zimbabwe citizens, black and white. Too many people in this country and elsewhere chose at first to think that this was a matter concerning the interests of a handful of rich white colonialists selfishly hanging on to land which they callously took from the Africans in colonial times, and that to criticise Mugabe was a racist act and politically incorrect. The truth is that very many of the farms were bought from the government after independence and, after being certified as useless and derelict land, they were then turned into viable farms. They now employ and house large numbers of Africans. There is a school, a clinic, a visiting nurse and a shop on most farms. They are flourishing and viable communities and the lives of the workers are bound up with the farms. Two million people—26 per cent of the labour force—stand or fall with the farms. Most farmers care deeply about their workers.

President Mugabe's land policies—that is, the seizure of farms and the resettlement of so-called veterans (in fact young, ruthless thugs from the towns who were not born when the independence war was fought)—have nothing to do with land reform. They are, like the brutal military suppression of Matabeleland in the 1980s, a demonstration of ruthless power and revenge for the political rejection Mugabe suffered in the referendum of 1997. They are also an election tactic.

The 91,000 families supposed to have been resettled when land was bought in the 1980s with funding provided by the British Government were given no funds and no help, and the infrastructure of the farms was stolen or destroyed. Much of the best land was, in any case, given to the government's political friends and much remains unsettled.

The white farmers have accepted the need for land reform, but they argue that the Africans already on the farms who are familiar with the work and to whom they would gladly sell the infrastructure of farm machinery through the government would have a far better chance to succeed if the government gave them title to the land. Without collateral they cannot secure the loans which every farmer needs to operate.

The CFU has trained 10,000 peasant farmers a year and runs programmes for water development and bore hole drilling schemes. By 1999, there were nearly 6,000 small farmers whose income was over 215 million Zimbabwe dollars. The government would have none of that and under the fast-track programme have, according to the Secretary General of GAPWUZ, the agricultural union, systemically displaced, in Mashonaland alone, over 15,000 people. The families were told to find a place to live elsewhere and ended up on the road or in the equivalent of refugee camps, but without care. Only 50 out of more than 700 farm families were resettled in one district because the veterans demanded party cards in the vetting exercise which they conducted.

Farm workers are punished because they are suspected of supporting the MDC. Mugabe's stated aim is to create no more than a subsistence economy. He wants, to put Africans on the land so that they can grow food to feed themselves and to pay for health and education services". In fact the veterans are not even doing that. Their main object has been to loot and destroy, and to terrorise their own people.

The commercial farms earn over 40 per cent of the country's revenue from exports. Now they are actually forbidden to plant. In one week last year, over 10,000 hectares of grazing was burnt. There is no grazing for the animals, no currency to buy cattle feed and no diesel to move it. As the order not to plant includes maize—maize planting last year was down 40 to 60 per cent—a maize shortage is certain and famine will follow. The tourist and ancillary industries and the industrial infrastructure connected with farming are collapsing. In April last year the budget deficit was 15 per cent of GDP. Interest was absorbing 45 per cent of total government revenue. On the foreign exchange front, the country was 1,000 million US dollars short of requirements.

We are looking at the murder of a once prosperous country, a country where the veterans can enter a hospital and beat doctors and nurses for treating an MDC casualty and where 551 schools, according to the teachers' union, have been invaded with over 2,000 teachers beaten and a number raped. In Matabeleland a year ago, the Chamber of Industries reported that 50 per cent of its members faced closure and that 200,000 jobs would be lost. Unemployment stands at over 50 per cent. In Mashonaland over 6,000 families have been displaced by violence. The business community has been threatened and intimidated everywhere. Zimbabwe has the human resources and the skills to make a success of a peaceful and orderly transfer of land to many potentially well-qualified Africans, with the good will and help of the commercial farmers, under arrangements which would have protected and advanced the economic well-being of the country. The will to do that with mutual respect exists. One man with his corrupt associates has instead created a black hole of starvation, violence, lawlessness, corruption and destruction.

Until recently, the courts stood courageously between him and some of the worst excesses, but the police have ceased for nearly three years to enforce the law or to protect citizens from unbridled violence. The High Court, which ruled that the veterans should be removed from 600 farms, spoke in vain. The police refused to act. The judges have been replaced by political cronies who have declared the land grab to be legal. The veterans continue to murder and pillage unchecked.

Despite massive intimidation, including murder, the MDC still won an impressive number of seats in the last election and has steadily stuck to the democratic way despite every provocation. The next election—if Mugabe does not find a way to move to martial law first—will be very difficult. Mugabe, not content with blowing up the one Zimbabwe newspaper that has steadfastly reported the truth, torturing journalists and now declaring that the foreign press, including the South African press, are terrorists, will, as on the last occasion, certainly try to prevent foreign observers seeing what is happening. He has already taken steps to abolish the overseas vote which could have allowed a disgruntled army to have a voice.

We are about to see one of the few successful African countries, rich in resources and in skilled labour, go under, destabilising the whole area with terrible consequences, not only for its own people, who already have a serious AIDS problem to add to everything else, but for all the surrounding countries. Hundreds of thousands of displaced farm workers will walk the roads, as many are already doing and flood into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, into Malawi and Zambia.

Our Prime Minister recently spoke of a new African initiative and appointed a Minister for Africa. We are fortunate to have that Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replying to this debate today. What are we doing about this catastrophe, which we have all seen coming for at least three years? When the first land seizure was announced in 1997, the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union—Mugabe was seeking money from them all—refused to proceed unless and until the rule of law was restored. So did we. In a tactic Mugabe was to use many times, up to and including the Abuja Conference this year, he left the negotiations to junior Ministers who were allowed to agree a reasonable action, and then went back on the bargain.

In 1998, under UN auspices, the donor countries met in Harare and agreed to set up a technical support unit to be funded by the UNDP to work out a scheme with the Zimbabwe Government. Nothing was done. The UNDP came back with a fresh plan last year with the same outcome. At that conference, considerable resources were pledged by donors. The World Bank agreed to release frozen funds. Predictably, Mugabe, who already owed it 20 million US dollars, reneged on his agreement and the World Bank withdrew its support. The IMF actually gave him some money in 1999 but then withdrew all support with the breakdown of law and order. In March this year there were meetings with the EU Commission in Brussels, when the EU believed that dialogue would build a confidence and a consensus—those magic words—with Mugabe, and the Belgians and the French, who received him with much pomp and ceremony, tried to advance their particular interests in the Congo. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether those meetings and Mr Mbeki's presence at Feira produced any results.

Mugabe, his Ministers and senior army commanders are making far too much money out of corrupt deals with President Kabila, on diamonds in particular, and incidentally on the destruction of the habitat by the cutting down of all the great forests, to have any intention of honouring the Lusaka Agreement and calling home an army which was said last year to be costing £1 million a day. That is because of the riches that he and his associates derive from the concessions that the army is protecting. Oryx Diamonds, according to the Helen Suzman Foundation, is only one of a large number of lucrative ZAN U-PF investments in the Congo.

It was unfortunate to say the least that the new Commonwealth Secretary-General's African adviser who, as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group, was sent to monitor the elections last year, and who accompanied him to Harare to advise him on his first visit, should have been Moses Anafu, director of Oryx Diamonds. He was forced to resign from the observer group. But I wonder what his advice might have been.

The EU on its most recent visit to Harare in the wake of the Abuja Agreement from which so much was hoped—another example of Mugabe's tactic of sending a compliant Minister while he himself was in Libya "on holiday" and then reneging on the agreement—saw for itself what Mugabe is really like. It may at last be ready to take some real action against him.

The Commonwealth has been a most bitter disappointment and has supinely failed to act. Although prepared to be tough with Pakistan and Fiji, it has done nothing about Zimbabwe. It was deeply unfortunate that the Brisbane Conference, when it might at last have been prepared to act, was cancelled. What is it now doing about the election? Time is running out. For the first year or two it was understandable that both it and we should believe that the best tactic was quiet diplomacy exercised through the African states, and Her Majesty's Government could argue, not unreasonably, that, as the former colonial power, open condemnation by us could only make things worse. But there is much that we could do and have not done.

Despite the strong support, financial and in terms of bodyguards, that Mugabe can count on from Libya—and Gaddafi has unfortunately some standing with President Mbeki because of the ANC's past ties with the country—South Africa is at last moving to bring pressure to bear and recognising that Nelson Mandela was right to call Mugabe a tyrant who should be brought down. I hope that we are telling the South Africans in the strongest terms that, as the most powerful nation in the area, only they can avert destabilisation.

For our part, we should be organising with the EU and with the United States, whose Congress has recently moved against Mugabe, the complete freezing of the assets of Mugabe and his ministers. He should not be able to go to Spain for an eye operation or to Libya on holiday, and we should be ensuring the maximum publicity for his outrageous acts. Terrorism does not flourish only in Afghanistan and we should not forget the wider implications for Africa of Gaddafi's growing influence in Zimbabwe and his ambition to lead an African union. That has connections with our other problems over terrorism which we should not ignore.

Finally, it is outrageous that, if a recent Observer report is true, 150 Zimbabwe citizens, members of the Commonwealth, seeking asylum in this country should have been turned back from Heathrow last month—34 are in detention and two members of the MDC who were beaten and tortured have had their applications for asylum refused. At the very moment that we are debating a terrorism Bill, should we be refusing to help the victims of terror?

We must make the people of Zimbabwe understand that we care about what is happening. We must be seen to do something. It is no longer enough to say that we must be ever so tactful and let someone else do it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on raising this extremely important topic. It may be that nothing we can say or do will influence events in Zimbabwe or deflect President Mugabe from moves to entrench his powers. It may be that the forces of the so-called war veterans, having been unleashed, cannot now be reined in. Before the parliamentary elections, I was told confidently not to worry about the land grabbing and squatting, that it was all simply an election ploy, and that as soon as the elections were over it would all be reversed. We know that that is not what happened. The situation continues. Sometimes it seems that the activities of the war veterans can he turned on and off like a tap. Their activities are not a consistent daily, or even weekly or monthly event. They are concentrated and take place for the maximum possible advantage.

Having said that, if we talk or behave as though we were still the colonial power or the legatees of the old white settlers, we shall have absolutely no influence. Unpalatable though it is, it is necessary to recall that if we say the wrong thing, we simply exacerbate the situation in Zimbabwe; we do not ease the tensions. I should pay a passing reference to the recent history and problems of Zimbabwe. We must recall that Zimbabwe—wrongly, in the case of the governing party—still lives in a siege mentality. It has not yet emerged from the mentality of fighting a liberation war. One tragedy is that the two main political parties found themselves to be mainly—although not exclusively—tribally based. That has not made the situation easier.

It is true that Zimbabwe suffered badly for its support of the African National Congress during the years of the apartheid regime. I regret to say that few voices were raised at that time to help Zimbabwe. It may well be—this is my passing view, as it were—that those in Zimbabwe are suffering from a kind of persecution complex because of all the praise lavished on South Africa following its independence. Zimbabwe in some ways feels itself to be the poor relation.

That in no sense means that we should acquiesce in the undemocratic things happening in Zimbabwe or defend the current threat to democracy and thuggery. I would certainly not do that; I have far too much respect for Zimbabwe's people. I must say to the people and Government of Zimbabwe that, no matter how strong their feeling, frequently expressed, that the land was stolen in the old colonial days, this does not mean that they can neglect the realities of today's events. It is impossible to transfer land without compensation.

In some respects—I do not wish to be too hard on the commercial farmers—I could almost accept the take-over of the land for the Zimbabwe people if the land was being put to proper use. That, as the noble Baroness said, is not so. There has been no real training programme for the people taking over the land. There has been no seed distribution, and no attempt made to realise any, let alone the full, potential of the land. That is disgraceful.

All of us who are concerned with Zimbabwe want the best possible use of the land and the greatest possible prosperity for its people. We must double and redouble our efforts in the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United Nations to try to ensure proper, structured land reform to bring the land into use.

Yesterday, we learnt that President Mugabe has now said that the presidential election will take place in March—although he has not yet told us the date. It is essential that the date is set as soon as possible and that observers are allowed into the country to oversee the elections. President Mugabe blows hot and cold. Sometimes he agrees to having observers; sometimes he is against; sometimes he says maybe. Sometimes he says, "Observers, yes; monitors, no".

It is not in Zimbabwe's interest to keep out observers. In fact, observers need to be in the country as soon as possible. It is all very well being an observer on election day or a few days beforehand. I have twice been an observer in South Africa and once in Uganda. In only one case was there any hostility. People were glad to see us there. I am not sure that if election observers were sent to this country for our elections, we would greet them with quite the same enthusiasm. It might help if we were prepared to do so. However, that is by the way.

As I said, observers should be in the country as soon as possible. We must do everything that we can to ensure that the attempts being made to keep people off the electoral register are stopped. If we are to have a transparent, democratic election, everyone who is entitled to vote should be there.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, mentioned the courts. Until recently, they have been extremely independent and strong in support of democracy. A couple of days ago, I was glad to read that the challenge in the courts by the Movement for Democratic Change about who should be allowed to be registered had succeeded. I must admit that I do not know what has happened since, but I hope that the courts stand firm and hold the government to account. The rule of law must be upheld and there should be no barrier to registration during the elections.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said. She was somewhat scathing about dialogue—perhaps I am being too harsh on her; I hope that she will not take this amiss—suggesting that it had achieved nothing. I certainly share her disappointment that the most recent Commonwealth agreement appears not to be holding up. I am also disappointed that the recent ministerial visit to Zimbabwe, in which my noble friend Lady Amos took part, has again not found favour with the Mugabe regime. As the noble Baroness said, it is difficult when we get conflicting responses from government ministers on the one hand and from President Mugabe on the other. We must have clarity and know who is responsible.

I sometimes wonder whether President Mugabe understands or is aware of the damage being done to his country and to the region. For Zimbabwe to be importing food—to be crying out for food aid—is astonishing. It beggars belief that a country that used to export maize in huge quantities is now dependent on outside grain to prevent famine. We must be careful what we say, but I say that President Mugabe should withdraw his statement that non-governmental organisations will not be allowed to supervise food aid distribution. Food aid should not be used as a political weapon, and he should lift his threat of an embargo.

The threat to the region is serious. It is bad enough that Zimbabwe is being destabilised and faces a severe future. But the whole region of southern Africa is being destabilised by President Mugabe. Many of us in this House—including, I am sure, the noble Baroness are friends of Zimbabwe. For a number of years I was chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. There were many of us fighting for Zimbabwe's freedom. We certainly did not fight for it on the basis that the situation would be the same as under the previous regime.

Perhaps I may allow myself one particularly barbed comment. It is ironic that many of the actions of President Mugabe have been carried out under the old legislation of the Smith regime, left on the statute book by the government who negotiated Zimbabwe's independence. That proved a monumental error.

I wish Zimbabwe well, as I am sure does everyone. However, if President Mugabe believes that election by non-transparent means will help his people, he is wrong. If he is to be elected, he must be elected in a clear, transparent, democratic election. Everyone in this House and outside wants to see that happen.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for initiating the debate. As one who worked in Zimbabwe for many years, she spoke with a great deal of knowledge.

The situation in Zimbabwe is depressing because there appear to be no bright spots to highlight. We on these Benches have always tried to be measured in our response so as not to provide ammunition for a government mouthpiece such as the Herald or to enable it to quote our words and accuse us of aggravating the situation. However, the situation is so bleak that there is no point in doing otherwise than highlighting how dire it is.

The fact that Zimbabwe is facing economic collapse cannot be ignored. The situation faced by the white farmers has economic implications. They farm the commercial farms, which are the source of revenue and hard currency. Without that source of hard currency, which is being destroyed for short-term political ends, the economy is in dire straits.

Although we often raise the issue of white farmers, a much larger and hard-hit group, which we should never forget, is the farm workers. During the past 18 months, hundreds of thousands of them have been displaced and some have been murdered by the forces supporting the government because they supported the MDC.

Land reform cannot be ignored. It is not an easy issue, but I believe that one of the defects of the Lancaster House agreement was that land redistribution was not then dealt with fundamentally. However, much of the land redistribution is being done purely for political ends.

Land distribution is also contributing to the massive food crisis that is affecting the country. Zimbabwe should be one of the richest agricultural countries in Africa. I worked on a farm there and I know of the incredible ability of the soil to grow crops. However, there is a disparity between the rich farmland of Msonediland and the less fertile regions of Bulawayo to the south.

The food crisis—and the Government of Zimbabwe have called for 80 million dollars to redress it—is uneven in its effect. The fact that the government want to control the distribution of food, and perhaps in the run-up to an election claim the credit for providing food, is totally reprehensible and unsupportable.

The political unrest which is growing within the country is difficult to understand in a mature democracy. As a member of the opposition, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for those people who are prepared to stand up for their political views, knowing that many of their colleagues and friends have been killed for holding those views. The government's continued use of violence, which is growing, shows their desperation.

That is also shown in the collapse of the rule of law. In that respect, the last bastion in Zimbabwe seemed to be the brave stance taken by the supreme court. However, as that body has been packed with government sympathisers it is unlikely that the supreme court will deny the government's wishes in the future.

In order to prepare for the debate I pulled out the press cuttings for the past month. They are a thick tome and read like a tragedy. Many people consider the elections the country's salvation, as they were in Malawi. However, laws are being changed and such great damage is being done to civil society that an enormous amount of effort will be required after the elections to redress that; and that is provided that the elections bring about a government with a representative mandate.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, mentioned his monitoring experience. I, too, have had monitoring experience in South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. One of the questions which monitors always ask of themselves is whether they are rubber-stamping the process. The claim of "free and fair" elections should never be given as a reliable guide, a "rubber stamp", to an election team. The problem goes back to the formulation of the register. "Free and fair" cannot be the case when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, pointed out, those who have been displaced have been denied access to the electoral register and those between 18 and 30 have been denied the right to vote. Therefore, even if an election takes place under the present system, the question of whether it will be free or fair might well already have been answered.

Others in the region are beginning to question whether Mr Mugabe's stance is sustainable. Although many believe that the criticism by Mr Mbeke, South Africa's president, of what is going on in Zimbabwe has been a long time coming, I was pleased to hear it.

I have only two questions to ask the Minister today. First, have the Government reassessed their position? All the issues to which I have referred illustrate that asylum seekers coming from Zimbabwe have real cause for concern about being returned. Do the Government intend to review their policy considering that two supporters of the MDC who it is believed may face certain death if they return have had their asylum applications refused?

It is too tempting to ask the Minister what the Government intend to do to solve the problems in another country and to expect her to come forward with all the answers. I do not expect that. The problems that have been caused in Zimbabwe during the past few years must be addressed by the people of Zimbabwe. It is their prerogative. However, there are issues which friends of Zimbabwe must examine, which leads me to my second question. The American Congress has passed a Bill for smart sanctions. I believe that the British Government will act within the remit of the CHOGM in March, but should there not be an emergency CHOGM before then? Should not the Government act to institute smart sanctions and perhaps freeze the assets of members of the Government of Zimbabwe?

3.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for giving your Lordships' House an opportunity to debate the situation in Zimbabwe. The three episcopal areas in my own diocese are twinned with three of the four dioceses in Zimbabwe. We have a longstanding interest in the life of the people of that land.

It must be said that injustice and oppression are not totally new creations of the Mugabe government. In the 1960s and 1970s I was a missionary in the neighbouring country of Zambia during the days of the Smith regime's UDI. I still blush at some of the letters and statements of the white bishops and church leaders of Rhodesia in those days. For example, the then Bishop of Mashonaland wrote a letter to The Times in December 1976 arguing against democracy for the African people of Rhodesia. He warned that independence would mean the creation of a Marxist state, the consequent loss of the Cape sea routes, the isolation of South Africa and Britain becoming a colony of Russia.

In the context of such wild and exaggerated rhetoric, the Independence Address of Robert Mugabe seemed wise, measured and civilised. Twenty years ago, as the new Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, on its first day of independence he made a particularly encouraging speech on reconciliation, during which he said that: We are called to be constructive, progressive and for ever forward looking, for we cannot afford to be people of yesterday, backward looking, retrogressive and destructive. If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you become a friend and ally. If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that hinds you to me and me to you". He went on to say: It could never be a correct justification that because the whites oppressed us yesterday, when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because we have power. An evil remains an evil, whether practised by white against black or by black against whites". Those were fine words, but sadly the love binding together the people of Zimbabwe now seems to be fraying. We see injustices multiplying, not only black against white, but also black against black. The hoped-for democratic age has not yet materialised, while violence, fear and intimidation surround the run-up to next year's presidential elections. It does not give one confidence that, in seeking re-election, President Mugabe is not allowing international observers to monitor the polls.

Of course the issue of land reform bedevils the situation. Those difficulties were highlighted by the Anglican Zimbabwean bishops in their statement made in June of this year. Land reform, they truthfully pointed out, was essential, but it must be lawful. Who could disagree? But again, we should not forget history. From 1890 the land was taken by white invaders and settlers, often at gunpoint. In the 1930s, those white settlers divided the land, often earmarking the best arable land for the whites. It is true that generations of such settlers worked long and hard to make the land some of the most productive on earth. They made many sacrifices to secure a better future for themselves and their children. Of course they then wanted to hang on to what they had created, or at least they wanted to be well compensated for their loss.

At the end of UDI, the constitution agreements with Britain ensured that their land possession would be legal. But the fact is that, until recently, less than 1 per cent of the population owned 70 per cent of the land. No African government, however benign, could allow that situation to remain indefinitely.

Sadly, over recent years the redistribution of land has not been accomplished with the peace and order associated with lawfulness. It has been accompanied by murder and violence, with the police often turning a blind eye. But yet again, it must not he thought that such violence has suddenly been invented. A report from March 1977 published in the Sunday Times tells of a white farmer beating to death a black labourer. He unleashed four blows to the face, a kick to the head and two kicks to the chest after the 65 year-old labourer had planted maize incorrectly. The magistrate said that he did not consider that the assault itself was a serious one, fined the farmer 300 dollars and detained him in gaol for two months.

Let us take the words of the then new president at the first Independence Day seriously and seek to be, constructive, progressive and for ever forward looking". The news surrounding land reform is not all dire. Yesterday, in preparation for this debate in your Lordships' House, I received a fax from one of our local Zimbabwean bishops. He reports that the resettlement programme has been assisted by a team made up of commercial farmers and government officials called the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative. It has been set up to resolve the land question amicably and without contesting compulsory acquisition in court. The Churches are playing their part in trying to defuse the situation by maintaining a dialogue with the government, with war veterans and with the traditional chiefs. In July an open meeting with government Ministers took place at Victoria Falls, with a second meeting held in November involving war veterans. Even though the war veterans would not accept the blame for the violence on the farms, they committed themselves to ensuring that peace would prevail in the future.

But between those meetings the spate of abductions and the murder of two war veteran leaders has brought instability to Bulawayo. The Church was very vocal in condemning those crimes and the suspected perpetrators, members of the opposition party, were quickly arrested. Even that was a cause for disagreement, for it was claimed that no such swift action had been taken by the police when members of the opposition party had been the victims of such attacks.

The third of the Churches' meetings regarding land reform is due to begin tomorrow. It is to be held in the rural areas where much of the violence and intimidation has taken place, and where the traditional chiefs still exercise a great deal of authority. In the planned meeting, the Churches hope to encourage and support this force for stability in a changing land in unstable times.

I share those positive actions with the House because, as the noble Baroness indicated in her contribution, in many other ways the situation is dire and tragic stories abound. To cite only one example, the future of 6,000 orphans among farm workers hangs in the balance. The organisation formed to care for them has depended on a wide network of solidarity among farm labourers, farmers, Churches, NGOs, volunteers and agri-industrial corporate support. Farm invasions have destroyed that caring and financial net.

As we have heard, over the weekend there were press reports that the Zimbabwean Government are restricting the distribution of food aid to their own agencies. If that is the case, it will be extremely serious for the work of the Churches and the other aid agencies who work in good times and bad to bring help and healing to the most vulnerable. But I am pleased to tell the House that Christian Aid workers have reported that, until now, their activities have certainly not been curtailed.

It cannot be denied that the country which used to be called the bread-basket of Africa is in a bad way. The economy has collapsed, unemployment is universal, insurance companies have stopped insuring goods in transit through Zimbabwe, and tourism has collapsed as safari lodges are invaded and wildlife poaching mounts. Inflation is rife. Earlier this year one of my brother bishops in Zimbabwe reported a 70 per cent increase overnight in bus fares. More and more people are going hungry. The harvest due next month will be poor and will be made even poorer as inflation and lack of foreign exchange prevents the purchase of fertilisers. There is no money for educational supplies and, of serious concern, there is no money for drugs. Few families have not been touched in some way by HIV/AIDS and the purchase of drugs to slow the onslaught of illness is almost impossible.

It is difficult to be optimistic about developments in the short term as a deeply unpopular government struggles to hold on to power. There is a limit to what can be done by outside agencies, in particular by the British Government as a symbol of the previous colonial regime. But, along with other noble Lords, I shall be interested to hear from the Minister what help the British Government might offer to ease this serious situation.

The Zimbabwean Church remembers each August its first martyr, who died at the hands of his countrymen, in part as a result of his attempt to plant the church among his own people. The blood of that martyr proved to be the fruitful seed of the church. In politics as in religion, in the last resort the future of Zimbabwe lies with the Zimbabwean people themselves. In the medium to long term there is much cause for hope. The land is naturally productive and the peoples of Zimbabwe, of whatever race or tribe, are sensitive and hardworking. Zimbabwe will see better days, and the Churches will be doing all that they can to ensure that those days come soon.

3.51 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am happy to declare an interest as one of your Lordships who has family and many friends in Zimbabwe. What I say today will reflect my own thoughts—they are not necessarily theirs—and it will be said with a love for Zimbabwe and all its people.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park for introducing the debate. She encapsulated the problems very well in what she said. I am grateful, too, to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of the original words of President Mugabe, upon which he has now reneged.

The latest matter on which he has reneged is the Abuja Agreement. I hope that the Minister will confirm that, as far as our Government are concerned, the Abuja Agreement is dead and that we are no longer trying to hang on to something that was clearly used by President Mugabe as a ruse for delayed action and for carrying on and intensifying what was going on before. There is no doubt that the intimidation is worse and that the level of fear, of both blacks and whites, is at a higher level than it was before Abuja.

Over the past months, I have sent various e-mails to the Minister's office to ensure that she was aware of some the events happening in Zimbabwe. Sadly, when I have requested replies, they have not necessarily been forthcoming. I hope that today she will be able to put us firmly in the picture.

One of the great problems with Zimbabwe is obtaining accurate information; it is at a premium. If you read some of the comments of the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister, Mr Stan Mudenge, and compare them with what you read elsewhere, you would believe that he lived on a different planet. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, wondered whether President Mugabe was aware of the damage that he is causing to his country. Most certainly he is—but he does not care.

President Mugabe is not the only person who gives cause for concern. It is not only a question of getting rid of President Mugabe but of the whole of the ZANU-PF elite. If we get rid of President Mugabe, there will be four or five others ready to step into his shoes, with exactly the same policies, exactly the same terrorism of the blacks and exactly the same downward spiral that we have witnessed.

Like my noble friend Lady Park, I shall start with farming, because that is a tragic situation. In the year 1999–00, 850,000 tonnes of maize were grown; next year there is expected to be a maximum crop of 255,000 tonnes. Cotton is down from 34,000 tonnes last year to 12,000 tonnes this year. Planting is down 75 per cent within the past two years. Since January 2001, nearly a quarter of a million cattle have been sold and not replaced.

That has been compounded more recently because of President Mugabe's wonderful resettlement programme. The blacks have now introduced their cattle into areas where there are wild buffalo; the wild buffalo carry foot and mouth; the cattle now have foot and mouth and the export of beef from Zimbabwe has had to be stopped. There is a limited supply, but one of the good areas through which foreign exchange could get into Zimbabwe has been closed off through its own stupid internal policies.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to some of the good farming land in Zimbabwe, but there is some rotten, awful farming land which the white farmers are farming and which is being resettled at the moment. Here we will see history repeating itself. We saw it in Tanzania, where unprofitable farming land was resettled. I know one person who farmed quite a chunk of Tanzania. The land was resettled with 200 families—and there is now not one person on that land. Exactly the same will apply in Zimbabwe.

It is sad that young farmers, of all nationalities, are leaving Zimbabwe at an unprecedented rate. Already there is famine in parts of the country—but, in that time honoured phrase, you have not seen anything yet. Next year will see a dramatic increase in famine. We will see horrible pictures on our television screens and there will be a rush to try to help. If that rush starts before the presidential election, the only person who will get credit will be Mr Mugabe.

I hope that the Government will take a strong line on this issue. Any aid, maize, or whatever foodstuffs are needed, going into Zimbabwe should not go through the Zimbabwean Government but through the NGOs and aid agencies and it should be seen to go through them. Otherwise, the President will use it entirely for his own advantage and intimidation.

I turn now to tourism, one of Zimbabwe's main potential opportunities. In 1999, there were 1.4 million visitors; there were less than a quarter of that last year. By March of this year, the industry had lost 5,000 jobs in the previous 12 months; 100 tour operators had closed down; and Qantas and Lufthansa airlines had left Zimbabwe because of a lack of people wanting to go there. Those policies do not help the local people of Zimbabwe; they put them out of work.

As well as going to view the magical scenery of Zimbabwe, one goes to look at the wildlife. I raised the issue of wildlife in our previous debate on Zimbabwe, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, replied. Let us look at what is happening in the private reserves. In the Save Valley reserve—one of the biggest in the world, with 320,000 hectares of land—more than 3,000 animals have been lost through illicit poaching in the 12 months to June this year. This area comprises 20 landowners, 22 local communities and five district councils. It was the epitome of an African solution to an African problem, but it is now failing.

There has been rampant poaching—not through the organised gangs that we saw in the early 1990s, which were sponsored by outside nations and by the government, but through people trying to get some meat to eat. The wildlife lost includes wild dog, elephant, lion, sable, eland, giraffe, kudu—and, on that reserve, 36 out of the 70 rhino are missing. It is a tragic story. The very biodiversity of that part of Africa is now at stake. There have been huge losses. The reserve employs 1,200 unskilled workers, and they, too, are suffering as a result of the policies.

The same can be said of the reserves in the Midlands and Bubiana. Losses have been caused by poaching and indiscriminate fires, and, where the wildlife has not been killed, much of it has moved on to areas outside the reserves. Sadly, in the national parks, too, there is an increasing amount of poaching.

As I said, obtaining accurate information has been difficult. I hope that the Minister has seen the report in July this year from the Zimbabwe Network for Informal Settlement Action. From a sample taken in central Mashonaland, of the 5,689 farm workers estimated to have lost their jobs, only 1,593 had been resettled. The rest were internal migrants. It is estimated that there are now some 3 million internal displaced refugees within Zimbabwe. None of those people will be allowed to vote in the coming presidential election.

Worse than that is the consequential effect on the children of farm workers in the area. The supplementary feeding of under-fives has decreased by 56 per cent. Pre-school activities have stopped entirely for 36 per cent of the farm workers' children. The dispensing of medicines has ceased at 19 per cent of farms; and farm health workers are no longer being paid on 15 per cent of farms. This is tragic; the very core and future of Zimbabwe are not being looked after. The orphans who were once looked after by those families have suffered more than others.

What action should we now take? I take a much stronger view than some other speakers. The time for constructive engagement is over. The European Un ion should implement smart sanctions as soon as possible—as the Americans have done. All the travel of the Zanu PF elite and their families and henchmen should be stopped, including that of some whites who are supplying arms to the regime. The daughter of a friend of mine was at a mixed school in Zimbabwe. Not one of her black friends is in Zimbabwe at the moment. If their travel were stopped, it would bring it home to their parents just what a mess they are making of the country.

We ought to freeze the assets of all ZANU-PF elite and the Zimbabwean Government. At the same time, we must get over the message that the sanctions are not targeted at the Zimbabwean people but at the ruling government. The Americans are already close to losing a trick. I hear that they are not winning this important propaganda war. I hope that we shall cease to provide aid for resettlement and trim our aid programme heavily. I hope that, at the same time, we shall offer a new, enhanced aid programme for the future when certain conditions are met and the elite have gone.

I hope that President Mbeki of South Africa will pass the test that he has set himself of influencing Zimbabwe. The country has lost 25 million dollars in the recent past, thanks to Zimbabwe. When we were children, we used to play a game called "beggar my neighbour". President Mugabe is doing that with serious money to all the surrounding states.

I very much hope that the Government, together with the other European Union countries, will take firm action now. Unless that happens, they will continue to be led by the nose, as they have been over the past year, and at the end of the day President Mugabe will still be laughing at the European Union. I hope that that does not happen.

4.3 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for introducing this topical debate. Hardly a day goes by without more revelations of human rights violations and of the increasingly dire social, political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has put his name on the list of speakers. We look forward to hearing his comments.

This subject has been raised many times in this house, particularly at Question Time by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker. The Minister for Africa has consistently given assurances that pressure will be brought to bear—through Britain's membership of the Commonwealth and through the European Union—on Robert Mugabe to end the increasing cycle of devastation in his country.

However, as the Foreign Secretary recently conceded in another place, the Abuja accord has effectively broken down. Moreover, all the assurances given by the Zimbabwean Government, and by Mugabe himself, have proved to be false dawns.

Whatever measures Her Majesty's Government have taken and continue to take, my experience of having lived most of my life in southern Africa leads me to suggest that African problems require African solutions. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has reservations about that but certainly so far as concerns the present crisis, I believe that South Africa holds the key to resolving the impasse.

We can pontificate as much as we like in this House, but the relationship that Mr Mugabe has with Thabo Mbeki is a very long and special one. It is encouraging that at long last he is changing his views on the country. Even more so, pressure needs to be brought to bear through SADC. Essentially, it is Zimbabwe's southern African neighbours who have the ability to get to the heart of Mr Mugabe—essentially we are talking about one man. When she replies to the debate, will the Minister outline what measures Her Majesty's Government have been taking to encourage President Thabo Mbeki to exert much-needed pressure on his northern neighbour?

South Africa has been placed in an awkward predicament. Thabo Mbeki has tried in vain for several years to exert diplomatic pressure on Zimbabwe through maintaining friendly relations with his old friend and comrade, Robert Mugabe. However, this kid gloves strategy has effectively back-fired on the South African economy, and more recently on the South African rand, which has fallen dramatically. I am not saying that that is entirely the result of the crisis in Zimbabwe, but the crisis has certainly had a knock-on effect on the economies of the entire region.

I was therefore encouraged to note President Mbeki's remarks last weekend, when he publicly acknowledged that Mugabe's policies have destroyed southern Africa's second largest economy and that the country's presidential election, scheduled for March next year, is unlikely to be free and fair. Such words do not come easily from Thabo Mbeki. He appears to have decided that the most effective means of bringing pressure to bear on his old friend Mugabe is to work through SADC.

It has been mooted that South Africa could effectively bring the Zimbabwe Government to their knees by imposing economic sanctions, through interrupting the supplies of electricity and maize, as well as the credit lines it has been giving to the Zimbabwe Central Bank and various public enterprises. However, Pretoria has repeatedly stated that sanctions are not an option. Diplomacy and leadership through SADC remain the strongest weapons at President Mbeki's disposal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, has eloquently outlined the gravity of the current situation in Zimbabwe. I totally agree with her remark that we are currently experiencing the murder of a once prosperous country. That is true. The sad reality, however, is that this is not just a crisis about the seizure of more than 5,000 white-owned farms. Most speakers would agree that land reform in Zimbabwe is necessary—but necessary only so long as it is fair, and only so long as it is done in an orderly fashion. The real crisis lies in the devastating effect that this policy has had on millions of poor Zimbabweans. Agricultural production has slumped alarmingly and the country, which has historically enjoyed food surpluses, now faces the unthinkable prospect of severe famine.

The harsh statistics speak for themselves. In 1980, one Zimbabwe dollar was equal to £1. Now, £1 buys more than 300 Zimbabwe dollars. If we look back 10 years to 1990, Zimbabwe's per capita annual income was 920 US dollars. That figure has now fallen to below 530 US dollars. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned an unemployment figure of 50 per cent. I understand that at present it is nearer 60 per cent. With more than 25 per cent of working-age adults HIV positive, the outlook could hardly be bleaker.

Apart from supporting South Africa in the initiatives through SADC, have Her Majesty's Government adopted the imposition of smart sanctions on Zimbabwe similar to those passed recently by the US House of Representatives in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill? Those penalties would involve travel bans on Mugabe, his cabinet and senior ZANU-PF officials. Most importantly, it would impose a freeze on the assets of Robert Mugabe and his henchmen.

We have debated this ongoing crisis for long enough. Time is running out for the people of Zimbabwe. Her Majesty's Government need to offer unconditional support to the SADC initiatives and, together with our partners in the European Union and the Commonwealth, ensure that the forthcoming presidential election is as free and fair as possible. We live in hope.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Brett

My Lords, it is normal to start a speech by congratulating the person who has initiated the debate. I question whether I want to thank the noble Baroness for introducing the subject. The debate has been as I imagined. I am the seventh speaker and I agree with every word of the previous speakers. Indeed I suspect that I shall agree with all who follow. However, before deciding whether to participate in the debate, I asked myself a number of questions. Will I gain new knowledge about Zimbabwe? Will I hear new initiatives from the UK Government? Will the outcome of the debate influence President Mugabe? I thought that all three points would be answered in the negative.

I declare an interest. I am a personal friend of Morgan Tsvangirai and for the past 10 years have served with Gibson Sibanda, parliamentary leader of the MDC on the ILO governing body. I have twice spoken at MDC meetings in London and chaired a rally in which Morgan Tsvangirai took part. However, I am uneasy about the righteousness expressed by some speakers, and the impotence felt by the same people, who might find themselves named within a few days by the Herald as the justification for what President Mugabe seeks to do.

I sought some positive aspects of the debate. I was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who said that it was all gloom and asked whether there is any brightness. I believe that there is. Eighteen months ago I went to Zimbabwe. I wrote a report, partly on behalf of the ILO, which I circulated to Her Majesty's Government and a number of noble Lords who have an interest in that country. Alas, everything that I had forecast from talking to bankers, industrialists, farmers and trades unionists has come about, except that there is not yet civil unrest to the degree that I forecast, although that is partly through the intimidation of the Government of Zimbabwe.

Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda were leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In the one-party state which has existed for a number of years they have become more and more the only democratic organisation where dissenting voices can he heard in debate. As in many developed and developing countries, trade unionists have become the voice of the masses in every sense of the word. I take comfort from two facts. First, when I asked members of the World Bank, the IMF, banks and farmers, "If the Mugabe regime were to be removed, democratically or by whatever means, how long would it take for the economy of Zimbabwe to recover?", a number of people said that it would be not more than three years because the fundamentals in Zimbabwe are so strong. With good governance, a democratic government and the rule of law, it could recover quickly.

My second reason for optimism is that Zimbabwe is but four months away from an election. I know and have heard of the ongoing intimidation. I have great admiration for Morgan, Gibson and their colleagues who face that intimidation. They are optimistic that if the rigging of the election can be minimised, the voice of the Zimbabwe people will render their verdict on President Mugabe.

While noble Lords may be guilty of rational thought, I do not believe that President Mugabe is involved in rational thinking. He seems to have some intellectual belief that because Morgan Tsvangirai does not have seven degrees and Gibson Sibanda was a railway engine driver they are in some way incapable of running the country. The right reverend Prelate referred to the speech that he made on the opening of the Mugabe regime. It demonstrates the journey the president has taken from his past to present position.

I disagree with only one aspect of the eloquent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I do not believe that a phalanx of ZANU-PF would be prepared to carry on the fight if President Mugabe were to fall under a Madrid taxi or find himself out at the election. A number of people will certainly fight to hold on to those things that they have acquired. Some months ago, the MDC dismissed the rumours of a coup and Morgan Tsvangirai remains confident that the senior echelons in the armed forces will obey the instructions of a democratically elected government. From talking to people within ZANU-PF—by no means at the lowest level—I know that there are those in that organisation who would want to find a solution. They have sought a solution which would remove President Mugabe with honour, security and a pension. That has been rejected. As with so many states, whether eastern European or others—we remember Ceausescu—when the head is removed what appears to be a solid phalanx falls quickly. I have some optimism in that direction.

Therefore, the question is how we can ensure that the elections are free and fair. President Mugabe has blown hot and cold about monitors. I understand that his position today is yes to Commonwealth observers; no to EU observers; no to white observers; and yes to Indian, Asian and African observers. It may be different tomorrow. However, he accepts, therefore, the principle of an observer presence. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, about the need for an African solution to an African problem. I am far less critical of the Government of South Africa than some speakers. I believe that determined efforts have been made privately. Contacts have been retained between the trade unions in South Africa and those in Zimbabwe and between the ANC and the political parties in Zimbabwe. At the diplomatic level, the South African Government have made efforts—they may be somewhat greater than we can acknowledge publicly—but the fact of life is that all those efforts have not succeeded.

In this week of Human Rights Day, Morgan Tsvangirai congratulated the president of South Africa on his latest statement. It is one to be grasped. How do we ensure that we have fair elections? That is a positive note. I am not sure whether smart sanctions imposed before or after an election are crucial. However, calling for sanctions in this Chamber will be used by President Mugabe as an argument that such sanctions are not being brought: because the world at large sees his regime for what it is: as a colonial fight in which, he pretends, the British Government and British people are involved.

We have to travel with a little caution if only because the journey to democracy could be quite short. I may be accused of being hopelessly naïve; that my knowledge is superficial; and that the situation is far more grave. However, my last ray of optimism is that my sources are Morgan Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda and the MDC. While they raise the alarm bells and want us to do everything we can to ensure free and fair elections, they are prepared to go into those elections and believe that they can be won. We owe it to them to take that optimistic view. I think that the UK Government have handled a very difficult situation as well as they can. We start from the premise that anything we say can be counter-productive. That it why I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside that we have to be careful about exacerbating the situation, if only because it could improve the chances of President Mugabe remaining in power, however rigged are the elections. I do not expect the Minister to do anything other than agree with the sentiments expressed by noble Lords and offer the continuation of the present policy. I think that the answer lies with SADC, the EU and the presidents of that region of Africa saying to Mugabe that the elections that take place in March must be seen by Africa to be free and fair. That is possibly the only pressure to which President Mugabe will respond.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Blaker

I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on securing this important and useful debate.

The most important thing for Zimbabwe in the coming months is that the elections should be free and fair. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, the observers—I hope that there will be observers—must be in position well before the elections take place. We have seen in the past that intimidation occurs in the period before elections. My impression is that Mr Mugabe has refused to agree to foreign observers. I should be interested to learn fro0m the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, when she replies to the debate, whether that is correct. The reporting on Zimbabwe has not been good recently, partly because the media are focused on Afghanistan and partly because Mr Mugabe has banned all foreign reporters in Zimbabwe.

When the European Union delegation of Mr Michel, the Foreign Minister of Belgium, Mr Solana and Chris Patten saw Mr Mugabe three weeks ago, Mr Mugabe stormed out of the meeting and refused to have observers from the European Union. Mr Michel was reported to have said after that meeting that the European Union would not recognise the elections. I was encouraged by that remark. Whether he really meant it, I am not sure, but at least it showed that there are strong feelings about the matter.

I want to ask the Minister about the position of SADC. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, that SADC has a key role. There was a call by Mr Mbeki not long ago for SADC to ensure that the elections are free and fair. SADC has put forward detailed and good proposals for the conduct of elections in the 14 member countries of that organisation. I shall not go into detail but mention only the interesting proposal that transparent ballot boxes should be provided, presumably to prevent the stuffing of ballot boxes before election day. SADC emphasises the importance of election observers before and after the elections, so I should be grateful if the Minister will say something about SADC's position on the issue of observers. It is important that SADC should play its part but also that there should be other observers from other organisations.

It is important, too, that the world should be prepared to do something if the elections are not free and fair. I emphasise the word "do" as opposed to "say". So far there has been much talk, representations and concern expressed, but not much has been done. It is interesting that when the parliamentary elections took place last year, all the observers' reports were hostile, adverse and critical, but nothing whatever was done. These elections could be an important turning point. If Mr Mugabe wins and the world stands by and does nothing, the vertiginous descent into chaos will accelerate. Zimbabwe will become even more in hock to Mr Gadaffi, to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred. If the elections are not free and fair and Mr Mugabe wins, have the Government considered what they will do then? It is much better that we should think out these matters before the elections occur, rather than have confused consultations with all our friends and allies after the elections.

Before the parliamentary elections, which Mr Mugabe "won", intimidation was fierce. It is now being stepped up again and is focused on the media, in particular. The printing press of the principal independent newspaper was blown up, local editors and journalists have been beaten up and arrested on spurious charges and foreign journalists have been banned. One can be sent to prison for criticising the president. The Zimbabwe Government have accused the BBC of stirring up revolt by its foreign language programmes and the headquarters of the MDC have been burnt.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Brett, in paying tribute to the MDC and to its leader, Mr Tsvangirai, in particular. I have great admiration for him and his organisation. The MDC refuses to respond to violence with violence; it is committed to democracy and peaceful change. And it is setting an example that is very important for Africa. It is possible that the MDC will win even if Mr Mugabe does his worst. It has had good results in recent mayoral contests. It leads in the opinion polls, although they may not be accurate as they are taken mostly in the towns where the MDC is stronger because of Mugabe's intimidation in the countryside.

Have Her Majesty's Government, the European Union or the Commonwealth considered the position if the MDC wins? It is possible that Mr Mugabe might refuse to recognise the result and imprison the MDC leaders. That happened in a similar situation in Burma, and there the situation is still the same many years later. What would the Government or the EU do? Let us think about it now, rather than after the event.

What is anyone doing now about stopping the descent into disaster? I understand the Government's reservations about the United Kingdom acting alone, which is to be avoided if possible, as we are the ex-colonial power. But should we not be doing more than issuing statements of concern and making verbal representations? The Abuja agreement has been signed, but, as has been said, that is now a dead letter as it was ignored by Mr Mugabe. What could the Government do? Like other noble Lords, I, too, refer to the resolution passed by the Congress of the United States to freeze foreign assets of Mr Mugabe and his cronies and to restrict their foreign travel. Why cannot the same be done by the EU? If the assets of bin Laden can be traced and frozen, so can those of Mr Mugabe and his henchmen.

I agree that the actions of the Commonwealth have been disappointing; so too have the statements of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. He recently warned Pakistan's rulers that there were limits to the tolerance of the world community in accepting their slow return to democracy. The Government of Pakistan have undertaken to have elections in October next year. I do not recall Mr McKinnon saying anything critical to, or about, the Government of Zimbabwe. He has certainly not said anything about their destruction of democracy.

I want to refer to one or two of the answers recently given by the Minister. I must express my sympathy to the noble Baroness for the fact that she suffered a harangue, which lasted 90 minutes, from Mr Mugabe a few weeks ago. On the "Today" programme on 21st November when questioned about international observers, she said that the question of free and fair elections is a matter for the Government of Zimbabwe to resolve. We all know that if that is the case the elections will not be free and fair.

In answer to a parliamentary Question from me on 6th November, the Minister said: perhaps I should remind the House that Zimbabwe is an independent country". She later added: we cannot force them to have international election observers".—[Official Report, 6/11/01; cols. 127–28.] But could we not put some pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe? Austria is an independent country, but we intervened in its affairs. Serbia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan are also independent, but we have intervened in all of them. The doctrine is evolving that intervention in an independent country is permissible to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. In a document issued in the summer, the Government favoured the further evolution of that doctrine. Do we not face a humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe? Could not the European Union at least follow the example of the United States Congress?

4.31 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that the election next March will be a turning point. We should consider the circumstances in which it is to take place and whether it is possible to say, even at this stage, whether the conditions exist in which a free and fair election might theoretically be held.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, has already reminded us of the widespread violence and intimidation before the parliamentary elections. At least 30 MDC members were killed during the June parliamentary campaign and there has been a relentless onslaught on MDC leaders and activists since then. When Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition, was campaigning at a by-election recently, a group of more than 100 ZANU-PF youth supporters attacked his convoy and five MDC supporters were seriously injured. At another by-election, ZANU-PF thugs set fire to the house of an MDC official and assaulted his pregnant wife as she fled from the fire. At the Chikomba by-election on 14th September, Mr Felix Mazava, a headmaster of a primary school, was abducted and beaten to death, allegedly by ZANU-PF supporters.

Only the day before yesterday, it was reported that the body of 29 year-old Augustus Chacha, who was kidnapped by suspected ZANU-PF supporters from his home in Shurugwi on Saturday, was found dumped in a dam a kilometre from his home. He had been an active supporter of the MDC in the nearby village of Gonye before he moved to Shurugwi in August this year because of political violence around his previous home.

The police have not investigated any of those incidents of violence against MDC supporters. However, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said, when any member of ZANU-PF or the war veterans is attacked or murdered, the full armoury of the state is deployed against the nearest MDC target. The case of Cain Nkala, a leading ZANU-PF activist in Bulawayo, has already been mentioned. Following his murder, 14 MDC supporters were arrested and at his funeral, President Robert Mugabe accused the MDC of being a terrorist organisation. Two suspects, Mr Khentani Sibanda and Mr Remember Moyo, said during their bail application at Bulawayo High Court that they had been tortured. Mr Sibanda said that he had confessed after being tortured by the police and when they threatened to kill his family. Mr Moyo told the judge that the police in Mbembesi camp tortured him and forced him to confess to the murder by holding his legs apart and kicking him in the groin.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa articulated the feelings of the whole world when he said: Clearly, in a situation where people get beaten up, where people get disenfranchised, obviously there cannot be free elections". He added that pressure on the Zimbabwean Government from the Commonwealth, SADC and the EU had not curbed Mugabe's attacks on the opposition. His brother, Mr Moeletsi Mbeki, has used even blunter language, warning that ZAN C-PF is preparing for, a major onslaught against the population, and against supporters of the opposition movement", using militias armed with Angolan weapons. He has called for drastic measures against Harare to defuse the looming danger that could engulf the whole of southern Africa. I shall not go into detail on how Zimbabwe's economic crisis is threatening to spill over into neighbouring countries, because others have already put it better than I could. That situation presents dangers for the whole region.

President Mbeki's reference to disenfranchisement related to the demand by the Registrar-General's office that voters must produce proof of residence. That will exclude whole slices of the population, including rural women, the urban poor who lack a freehold, farm workers and young people, together with an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans who are living outside the country and who, I understand, used to be able to vote by post. There are reports of voters being turned away from registration centres because of minor discrepancies in their identity cards and the other documents that they produce.

The problems are already happening. These are the circumstances in which an election will be held. It is already late in the day, because the registration process, although it was extended, is due to finish on 19th December. If the SADC observers are to be the only ones allowed to monitor the elections, they ought to be present in Harare and other places right now. If they arrive only after the various measures that the noble Baroness outlined in her evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning, it will be too late. I understand that she told the Select Committee that, at a meeting of CMAG Ministers on 20th December and at a meeting of the SADC security organ at some point in January, assistance would be given in setting out agreed standards for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. She said that once the outcomes of those meetings were clear, the international community would be in a better position to draw up the criteria that will guide the decision on whether a free and fair election is possible or has taken place. The problem is that it will be over by then. The circumstances will have been arranged by Mugabe and his thugs—the so-called war veterans, most of whom are far too young to have fought in the liberation war. They will be unleashed on the voters of Zimbabwe, who will be prevented from arriving at a free decision.

Coupled with the attacks on the opposition, another particularly alarming feature of Mugabe's strategy to remain in power at all costs has been violence against the free media and the intimidation of journalists and media workers. We have already heard mention of the events at the start of this year, with the terrorist attack on the presses of the Daily News. Five of its six presses were shattered by a huge bomb. It was clear that only Mugabe and ZANU-PF had the motive and opportunity to commit such an act of terrorism, which was of a piece with all their other efforts to silence criticism.

Just the other day, on 30th November, a drunken mob attacked the offices of the Daily News, smashing windows and destroying hundreds of copies of newspapers. The mob also attacked Mr Cyrus Nhara, a photojournalist who was trying to film the event. He escaped with bruises, although he lost his spectacles, the film and his shoes. The mob was led by Mr Winston Dzawo, a ZANU-PF central committee member.

The government have now tabled a Bill requiring all journalists to be licensed by a statutory commission that will have the power to discipline them, suspend them or strike them off the register for alleged breaches of a planned code of conduct. As has already been said, foreign journalists are not going to be allowed to work in Zimbabwe. The information minister, Mr. Jonathan Moyo, has already branded six journalists working for foreign newspapers as terrorists, although in fact only one of them is not a Zimbabwean.

Journalists are being picked up and detained on spurious charges. The Daily News reporter Mduduzi Mathuthu and his colleague the photographer Grey Chitiga were detained on 18th November on allegations of kidnapping and torture, but the charges were later dropped. Mr. Mduduzi was picked up and questioned again on 28th November in connection with an article he wrote saying that people had walked out on a speech that was being made by the vice president at a public rally.

The rule of law has been fatally undermined, as the International Bar Association showed in the report that it published following a mission to Zimbabwe last March. Because of a shortage of time, I shall not go into the very damning conclusions that it reached in that report.

Zimbabweans are now the third largest group of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, and that is obviously connected with the way in which events are developing in that country. I am very glad that, in her excellent speech introducing the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned the fact that Zimbabweans are the third largest group of asylum seekers to be fast-tracked through Oakington and the second largest group of asylum seekers in prison. If journalists, MDC members and other critics of Mugabe have good reason to fear persecution, why are those who do manage to escape rushed through the system and sent back?

This morning, the Minister told the Foreign Affairs Committee that she was concerned about the timing of international observers being admitted for the presidential elections. As I said, with the flawed registration process coming to a conclusion a week from today, I believe that it is already far too late for a proper assessment to be made of the conditions in which free and fair elections could take place. However, I urge the noble Baroness to persuade SADC not to wait until it can send delegates to Harare to observe events, but to produce a preliminary assessment of the conditions, as was similarly done prior to last year's Peruvian elections. That was a very effective means of highlighting the international community's concerns and of pointing to the particular conditions in the country that made it impossible for free and fair elections to be held.

If we did that in the case of Zimbabwe and brought out all the facts, some of which I have tried to describe in the course of these few remarks, we would at least set the scene for a judgment by the international community on the events that are to take place in March.

4.43 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I too have personal connections with Zimbabwe. Furthermore, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, I lived in Zambia, although at a rather different time, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. I have been in a position to see the rather contrasting fate of those two countries.

The tragedy of Zimbabwe is that its dire problems are entirely man-made. The current conditions of lawlessness, mob rule, violence, repression, economic chaos and impending famine are the direct consequences of very deliberate political decisions rather than incompetence.

When I first visited the country in the late 1980s, it was still relatively stable and well ordered. There was also a general feeling, to my mind at least, that its people had done a remarkable job, as had its president, to put the horrors of the civil war behind them and concentrate on moving forward. That was only a few years after the civil war had ended. The country had a highly developed agricultural industry, producing ample food for domestic consumption and a surplus and cash crops for export. At that time, tourism was booming.

Since then, however, as we have heard from all speakers today, the country has changed beyond recognition. As economic conditions have worsened and pressure on the government to deliver has grown, President Mugabe has sought to distract attention by relaunching an old conflict which had been very largely dead and buried. In doing so, to maintain power he has demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice not only all the considerable achievements that the country and its people had made since independence, but the fate of all Zimbabwe citizens except the political elite.

One has only to look over the border to Zambia to see the achievements that have been made—albeit from an extremely low base—during the same time, particularly since the 1991 multi-party elections. In fact, I left Zambia on the very day that the Kaunda regime, after 27-odd years, ended. Since then the situation has improved, although very slowly. Contrast that with Zimbabwe, to which we used to go to buy provisions and supplies. The contrast is very marked indeed.

The facts of the current conditions in Zimbabwe are well known; there has been no dispute about them in today's debate. We have heard some very graphic descriptions. The terror unleashed on the country by gangs of ZANU-PF thugs, otherwise known as war veterans, operating under the government's control, has wrought untold damage. My noble friend Lord Caithness has given a very thorough analysis of the agricultural conditions. Agriculture is the key point facing the country. Zimbabwe, incredibly rich in agricultural resources, is now producing next to no food. That can only signal dire consequences ahead.

We have also heard that Zimbabwe's independent judiciary survived for a surprisingly long time considering the pressure from the government. However, that independence has now largely gone. As the regime of terror has continued, we have heard of the moves to frustrate the opposition MDC's campaign. Those moves include intimidation, the unlawful arrest of officials and the destruction of opposition offices. The tourism industry has almost totally collapsed. Moreover, Zimbabwe has no money to buy food, and it is not growing Food itself now. Given the acute food shortages that will inevitably occur, the country's lack of foreign exchange and its lack of ability to generate any, the suspension of the rule of law, mass dissent and the impending presidential election, it becomes clear that the potential for very serious conflict is both real and immediate.

It is equally clear that the policies pursued by interested parties, including Her Majesty's Government, the Commonwealth, the EU and indeed SADC to attempt to control Mugabe have not worked. Despite the Abuja agreement he has continued his policies of brutal repression and destruction. I do not seek here, however, to criticise Her Majesty's Government. I believe they have done their very best to influence President Mugabe both directly and through other interested parties to the limits of a constructive, non confrontational approach. We are indeed lucky to have the Minister with responsibility for Africa, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replying to the debate and in this House. Looking back through the reports of the multitude of occasions when Ministers—the noble Baroness and her predecessors—have reported back to the House, their efforts are very clear.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Brett, I thought long and hard about intervening in this debate. There is very little dissent in the western world about current events in Zimbabwe. I partly see the noble Lord's point that the louder we shout in the United Kingdom, the more strength is put to Mugabe's elbow. Hitherto I have agreed with that view, and I have imposed a self-denying ordinance on contributing to debates. However, my feeling now is that the situation is becoming so severe and urgent that a stronger approach is required.

We know that President Mugabe is not overly concerned about the international reputation of himself or his regime, nor indeed about the economic well-being of those whom he governs. That clearly reduces the effect of international pronouncements. I do not think for a moment that he will be receiving a copy of Hansard tomorrow or that he will be unduly concerned about what your Lordships have said. However, we do have the opportunity to influence the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and they have the opportunity to influence the policy of the Commonwealth and to make representations to SADC, the EU and of course directly to South Africa.

I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, that as far as possible the solution must 1x a regional one. Mugabe will not feel threatened while there is a degree of tacit acquiescence with his domestic policies. He will begin to feel threatened only when pressure is applied through African leaders. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, that once the regime begins to crumble, as it inevitably will, then it has the potential—as history has shown over the past 10 years or so—to fall extremely quickly.

Looking at what has been done by SADC and by South Africa, it is clear that, on a diplomatic level, South Africa has been making strong representations towards Zimbabwe. But we have not heard—we understand the reasons why—strong condemnation from President Thabo Mbeki. However, it appears that that situation is now changing; that the consequences on the destabilisation of the region and the devaluation of the rand, which is now happening extremely quickly, is scaring both investors and the administration in South Africa. That is a good thing because we need President Mbeki to make strong representations to President Mugabe that a continuation of the present regime is unacceptable. I urge the Government to do everything they can to support that stance.

We need to look towards what has been done in the United States in terms of more direct action. The so-called "smart sanctions" that were passed by Congress to freeze assets and impose travel bans are the type of measure we should urgently consider, not on a unilateral basis but by applying pressure within the European Union and among other partner countries. The time has come for much tougher action against the Mugabe regime. It is a question of timing. The consequences of not taking action are frightening.

The elections are close. I listened with care to what noble Lords said about the possibility of those elections being free and fair. They cannot possibly be entirely free and fair if one considers what has happened historically. The question is: what pressure can we apply to reduce the level of intimidation that Mugabe is able to exert?

Zimbabwe is a wonderful country. I share the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Brett, that in the not too distant future it will return to being a great country. But how it gets there is of the utmost importance.

4.52 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, is to be congratulated on assembling a formidable force today. I am sure we will be heard in Zimbabwe in the way that we would like to be heard.

I shall be brief because so much has already been said. It was disappointing that SADC chose not to confront President Mugabe on Monday, in spite of the strong and welcome statements we heard last week from President Thabo Mbeki. But it has been an enormous relief, as my noble friend said, that the South African president finally decided to speak out in his own way. I can only speculate with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, that he still feels that quiet persuasion will be more effective than threats of sanctions in preventing more bloodshed and intimidation before the presidential elections.

Another powerful voice known to the noble Lord, Lord Brett, is that of Mr Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of COSATU—the Congress of South African Trade Unions. He said quite bluntly on Monday that Zimbabwe could be saved from economic collapse only if President Mugabe was removed from power at the next election. Mr Vavi told trade unionists from all over southern Africa that Mugabe's sole aim was power. He said he was, desperate and does not care how many corpses he leaves behind". The opposition parties in Zimbabwe will be greatly cheered by those comments from next door, because the MDC needs all the encouragement it can get. It has done well to stay in the race and is already a favourite having just captured its third mayoral election in the town of Cheguto, with Harare itself now in its sights before February. But it is still fighting against enormous odds, not just the rhetorical question of whether there will be free and fair elections, which none of us can answer, but also the reality of daily intimidation and violence against its activists and even its supporters. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with characteristic skill described the pain that that is bringing every day to families. The victims include teachers, members of the clergy and local leaders whose very lives are often at stake alongside the people they serve.

The task of political parties and their organisations is made much less easy by the government's attacks on members of the judiciary who, as long as they remain independent, are supposed to be the final arbiters of any electoral fraud and malpractice. However, many of them feel too enfeebled to be so.

The official ZANU-PF policy of intimidation extends to other parts of the constitution—elected MPs, trade unions and the national and local media. The attack on national newspapers, like the Daily News is well known; but the work of local media rather less so. Those who follow Zimbabwe closely depend on reports from local journalists and non-governmental organisations. The international press and the outside world owe a huge debt to those individuals who, in a fine tradition, take personal risks every day to observe the situation—like the recent violence of ZANU-PF thugs in Epworth—at first hand and report it as accurately as they can. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, Mr Moyo's new Information Bill contains much to be feared for those people, especially the new commission with its accreditation rules, many of which are aimed directly at the foreign correspondents on whom we here all depend.

I look forward to the noble Baroness's analysis of the vexed land issue and should like to ask two questions following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said. Does the Minister believe that the Abuja declaration helped the situation or was it merely an expression of good will? Or was it something much more sinister, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggested? Secondly, is the UNDP, which has been charged with this responsibility for so long, making any headway in arriving at the great compromise involving the international community? Or will that important question be permanently left to politicians? If there is to be a new UNDP report, when will it be implemented and who will follow it up? Who will be responsible for it? I appreciate that the noble Baroness may not he able to answer those points.

Despite the prevailing economic gloom already described, there have been one or two encouraging signs. Tobacco prices have picked up. I notice that, while the tobacco industry is set to decline by one-third next year, small-scale producers are expected to double their share. Their role must not be overlooked. That is an encouraging sign and is partly due to increased planting by small-holders and not just to the decline of the commercial farms. However, it is a straw in the wind compared with the overall slump in agriculture as a whole, the continuing land invasions, the aggression against the larger commercial farmers and farm workers, and the unhappy, unnecessary migration of skills out of the country. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about the possible abuse of food aid as a political weapon. I hope that the predictions of the right reverend Prelate in relation to the non-governmental organisations and Churches will prove right.

The Zimbabwe Foreign Minister, Mr Stan Mudenge, has yet again accused Britain of interfering—I hope that the noble Baroness will resist—in internal African affairs, which is all he can devise as a foreign policy. Mr Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, followed suit. Whatever the mistakes of the past, that is a crude form of racism which most Zimbabweans know to be shallow and transparent in the light of their government's well-publicised and anti-democratic policies.

Of course Britain will and must receive that criticism like water off a duck's back. We shall always go on taking an interest in Zimbabwean affairs and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, put it, we do not have to say "the wrong thing". We need to speak with conviction.

I am sure that the Government will stand firm, will continue to ignore the blandishments and will help to resist Mr Mugabe's bullying of his own people. The time is long past when liberals in the United Kingdom from all parties were, with good reason, praising Mugabe's achievements as a freedom fighter in the wake of the civil war and the Smith era. His South African comrades in arms are now at last disowning him too. If the opposition can keep up the momentum, it should be only a matter of time—let us hope it is well before the next CHOGM—before the front-line African states all see the value of united action. If sanctions are not imposed, at the very least there must be a determined effort by the international community to insist on election observers from all countries and to reassert the rule of law and democracy.

5 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on introducing this important debate. The House has certainly enjoyed some powerful and well informed speeches.

As Zimbabwe descends ever further into the abyss, one of the most important issues is the shameful threat to its government's last truly vigorous domestic critics—the press. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the government are preventing most foreign correspondents from entering the country. Some have already been thrown out, including representatives of British and other countries' national newspapers and the BBC. The BBC World Service is doing tremendous work in Zimbabwe. Is the Minister aware of any steps taken by the Zimbabwe Government to block access to, or to jam, external broadcasting services of which they disapprove?

Over the past 18 months the editors and staff of the three principal Zimbabwe independent newspapers, the Daily News, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Financial Gazette, have been subjected to almost daily violence and intimidation by the so-called "war veterans". Their journalists have been arrested and tortured by the police with beatings and electric shocks. Thousands of copies of those papers are taken and destroyed to preserve the state monopoly on information. Ruling party militants randomly attack vendors selling independent newspapers.

The chairman of the Zimbabwe journalists' union, Basildon Peta, is the target of repeated threats simply because he has had the courage to speak out against the government. Geoffrey Nyarota, editor of the Daily News, has faced an attempt on his life, and, as has been said, his printing press was blown up in an effort to silence him. That harassment has extended to directors and shareholders.

Despite those threats, the Daily News remains the best selling newspaper among a population tired of government control propaganda trotted out by The Herald and The Chronicle. But none of that intimidation has been able to stop the revelations of the government's responsibility for violence, their contempt for the law and the extent of the economic crisis Zimbabwe now faces. So the government intend to rush through parliament the Bill mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who spelt out some of its consequences.

In addition to possible licence revocation, journalists may receive a prison sentence of up to two years, or a fine of up to 1,800 US dollars, if the output meets certain requirements for punishment. It will be a crime to criticise the president or to "spread alarm and despondency". Publications that breach those requirements can have their assets seized. Two weeks ago the government accused six foreign journalists of "assisting terrorists" for reporting on recent violence in Bulawayo. That would make them liable to the death penalty under the proposed legislation.

Any media house—local or foreign—represented in Zimbabwe will be obliged to pay contributions to a "media and information fund" for the notoriously erratic Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, to use as he pleases. The size of the contributions has yet to be determined, but that is also Moyo's prerogative. Jonathan Moyo is wanted in Kenya and South Africa for alleged fraud.

The measure I am discussing is one of the most draconian pieces of parliamentary legislation ever proposed in a Commonwealth country. If passed, it will ensure that all information in Zimbabwe is subject to the strictest controls. It is aimed at one thing—shutting down a critical press ahead of what is expected to be a violent and extensively rigged presidential election.

The media are one of the most powerful forces within our modern world. They have the capacity for great good and for great harm. They can inform, challenge, debate and hold accountable those institutions of the state that would otherwise govern untrammelled. We in this country take press freedom very much for granted and, perhaps because of the excesses of some newspapers, fail to appreciate the vital role that it has to play in our democracy. The people of Zimbabwe have little to support and protect them against the Mugabe regime and the press there has been at the forefront of the championing of democracy. I trust, therefore, that the Minister and the Government will do all in their power to ensure that foreign journalists have access to the country before the presidential elections and that they will make full representations against the new Bill, both within the Commonwealth and more widely.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I apologise for rather unexpectedly standing between the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and his speech. However, I shall be brief as I agree with almost everything that has been said this afternoon. All of us view with sadness and horror what has happened over the past few years in Zimbabwe, which was once a prosperous and happy country.

I view with disappointment and sadness what has become of President Mugabe over the past years. When he won the election in 1980 I felt very alarmed at what he might do. He was an avowed Marxist and had made some fiery and provocative speeches. But in the event he was both sensible and magnanimous to those whom he might well have thought did not deserve that magnanimity. We should remember that. I think that he acted sensibly largely as a result of his experience of living in both Tanzania and Mozambique. He saw what their governments did on independence and he had no wish to preside over a bankrupt country, as both those countries in the end turned out to be.

As the right reverend Prelate reminded us, President Mugabe talked at the outset about reconciliation and said that he wanted a partnership between white and black and a prosperous country. However, that has not been the case in the past few years. As the economy deteriorated and his popularity evaporated, he thought it necessary to pursue economic policies as well as those directed against white farmers which have brought about the present catastrophe in Zimbabwe. It is a human catastrophe in terms of human rights, as my noble friend has just said, and an economic, political and, of course, agricultural catastrophe. I refer also to the muzzling of the press.

The only comment that I mildly disagreed with was when the noble Lord, Lord Brett, said that he did not think that what President Mugabe was doing was rational. However, from President Mugabe's point of view, his actions are wholly rational. All that he wants to do is to stay there, and the only way in which he will do that is by doing precisely what is he doing.

I fear that President Mugabe is not, in the present circumstances, likely to listen to or bow to outside pressure—particularly, I am afraid, from this country. That only affords him an opportunity to make another outburst against colonialism, and I am not sure that that helps those whom we seek to help. However, that does not mean that we should do nothing. The problem is, what do we do?

I do not have many ideas that differ from those that have been advanced in this debate. The Commonwealth must do more. It was a great pity—although I understand why—that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting did not take place in Brisbane. That would have provided an opportunity for heads of government to put pressure on President Mugabe—that is very difficult to do when one is not face to face. The Secretary-General should try to persuade black members of the Commonwealth to put pressure on him. It is undoubtedly true that what is happening in Zimbabwe will have an effect, sooner or later, on its neighbours. It is as well that they should understand that.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, about South Africa. South Africa is the key to this matter. I was cheered by the recent statement by President Mbeki. I was even more cheered by what President Mandela said right at the beginning of all this. President Mbeki has become more aware of what the problems are—for him as well as for Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that he is the key and that he has the power to make things happen. To Zimbabwe, South Africa is absolutely vital.

I hope, too, that the Government can persuade the European Union to take a more active part—perhaps a leading part—in trying to persuade President Mugabe in this regard.

Lastly, I very much agree with my noble friends Lady Park and Lord Caithness that we should try to do something about the finances and travel arrangements of members of the Mugabe regime and their friends. We should ensure that they do not consider themselves welcome in civilised countries.

Those are not spectacular remedies and, in the short term, they may not have very much effect. However, they should certainly be related to a free and fair election—we must make that abundantly plain. In the end, the remedy must lie in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe. However difficult it is, they have to be responsible for their future. I hope that they will have all the help that we in this country can properly give them.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I should much rather listen to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, than detain the House for too long with my speech—I am not an expert on Zimbabwe. We know how long the noble Lord spent working on the subject. One of my many memories from the Lancaster House conversations—he may not be aware of this—is that he was sufficiently caught up in those discussions that he took, almost sight unseen by his private office, a speech on the future of Europe that was written by the junior members of the planning staff, one of whom was my wife. He delivered it at a major event in Aachen the next day. I still cherish the headline in the Financial Times the following day: Carrington announces major changes of British policy towards Europe". I am not, as I said, an expert on southern Africa and I therefore want to talk briefly about the wider context and raise the question of multilateral co-operation. We all recognise, after this sober and very well-informed debate, the difficulties that the United Kingdom would have acting on its own. As the former colonial power, the UK is an easy target. It is easy to charge that Britain is interested only in defending white farmers, even when it is clear that that is not the case. One therefore has to have sympathy with Her Majesty's Government and the Minister—they have a thankless task. We all know that the Minister has worked extremely hard on this matter and will have an acute sense of the limits of Britain's influence if we act on our own.

We have heard in great detail about the current situation's dangers, which involve the destruction of the economy and of communities. There is a rising number of internally displaced people, which is leading to the destruction of order—not just of property rights but of the whole structure of law and order. In the long run, that could weaken the state and reduce the Zimbabwean state to an instrument of force that depends on a dominant and authoritarian leader, who is himself gradually dying.

We have also heard evidence of cross-border corruption, of Zimbabwe's intervention in the Congo and the profits that are flowing across the border from the Congo. We have also heard about the dangers of spill-over to Zimbabwe's neighbours, particularly South Africa, which is not the strongest state. It needs considerable assistance and already has high unemployment. That situation would be exacerbated if a flood of refugees crossed the border from Zimbabwe. Indeed, there have already been several such problems in South Africa—local people have had to compete for work with people from Zimbabwe.

We also recognise that there is a major spill-over to Britain. Asylum seekers look in the first instance towards this country, and calls for help—for aid now and for reconstruction later—are likely to be delivered to us. Will the Minister give more details about the Government's current attitude towards asylum seekers from Zimbabwe? Under the current circumstances, those who are threatened in Zimbabwe clearly deserve to have a sympathetic hearing in Britain. Some of the stories that we have been hearing about refugees from Zimbabwe are, to say the least, disturbing. I hope that we will have an assurance from the Minister that the current policy towards asylum seekers from that very troubled country is in good hands.

I turn to the wider context. There are many other weak states across Africa. The danger of state collapse or of corrupt leaders spreading violence and thus devastating the chances of economic development are not found in Zimbabwe alone. The problem in west Africa involves Charles Taylor and Liberia spilling over the borders; that is very much part of the problem that we face in Sierra Leone.

We have learnt that British intervention in Sierra Leone unavoidably involves co-operation with those who have influence over Sierra Leone's neighbours—the French in Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea, the Americans in Liberia, and so on. The problems in central Africa involve the dreadful legacy from President Mbutu's despoiling of Zaire for so many years. That very large country is left with immense disorder. We even see some dark clouds in east Africa, where the willingness of those in power to give up power and to accept the outcome of elections is in doubt. I understand, for example, that the opposition leader in last year's Ugandan election found it very convenient to disappear last summer; he turned up two days later in New York saying that he was fearful for his own safety. We know that Kenya is not a perfect democracy. It is very sad that two countries that have had economic success and political recovery in recent years are again possibly threatened—I put it no stronger than that—by disorder.

Britain can do something in terms of democracy and order through its own example. I underline the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside. Britain could invite people from those countries to observe our elections. They would see that occasionally British governments do give up power—not entirely by a fair election system, of course, but one to which we know that the Labour Party is deeply wedded. But at least in this country we have a semi-fair voting system which occasionally allows governments to change and does not give a government who have 40 per cent of the votes more than 65 per cent of the seats. That is perhaps something that we can show them. It might even have an interesting effect on us if they were to ask awkward questions.

What else can Her Majesty's Government do? Clearly any action must be multilateral: through the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United Nations and other global institutions. Several noble Lords have clearly said that our first aim must be to support South Africa and its efforts within SADC. Although we may agree with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, that African problems require African solutions, I fear that the accumulation of problems across Africa risks overwhelming the capability of African governments and, in particular, the Government of South Africa, who are now engaged in a number of problems, to solve them on their own. Here, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others have said, the value of the Commonwealth is clearly at its highest. The pressure is from other former colonial states to accept the loss of power. Accepting the importance of order as such clearly is extremely valuable.

I want to ask the Minister a little more about the role of the European Union and how far the EU has moved on joint action towards Zimbabwe. Africa is, after all, now very much Europe's south. Over the past nine months we have received some very strong signals from the Bush Administration and its predecessor that disorder in Africa would be Europe's primary responsibility. The United States saw itself as working mainly elsewhere. The EU is the major trading partner of almost all states in Africa. It is the main aid supplier to all of them and the main recipient of refugees. Therefore, we clearly need a more coherent EU strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.

I suggest that that is another area where Britain must lead in shaping EU policy because the gap between the rhetoric of EU governments and the commitments which they are prepared to make is sometimes embarrassingly large. I remember the prolonged argument surrounding the South African trading agreement in which Italy, Spain and Portugal, in particular, resisted making minor trade concessions and blocked a major political initiative.

I also want to ask the Minister how far we have got in preparing smart sanctions in the EU as a whole. We remember that when General Pinochet was in Britain the Spanish asked for his extradition to Spain. I note that President Mugabe has recently been in Spain. There are some interesting parallels which we might wish to explore with regard to that. If we are pursuing smart sanctions, clearly they must involve both travel and funds.

At this point, perhaps I may something to the Conservative Benches in this Chamber. On a number of occasions over the past few months the questions of off-shore financial centres, tax avoidance and other matters have arisen. This type of smart sanction requires tighter controls of off-shore financial centres. We all recognise that. After all, since September 11th the Bush Administration has totally reversed its position on off-shore financial centres from wishing to weaken OECD activities on this matter to wishing to strengthen them.

In our policy towards Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Cayman Islands, as well as, of course, towards such places as Switzerland and the City of London itself, we must recognise the implications of pursuing this type of smart-sanctions policy. General Abacha and his family, who despoiled Nigeria of a great deal of oil revenues, kept rather a lot of their money in London as well as in Jersey and Guernsey. Therefore, we may need to look at our own policies in that regard.

We recognise the limits of Britain's influence. We also recognise the unavoidability of British involvement in what happens in Zimbabwe. That involvement is clearly best expressed through working with others as far as possible to bring joint pressures to bear.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, we all owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lady Park for opening this debate with her usual precision, accuracy and clarity. I was particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Carrington was able to participate. There have been many superb speeches, but my noble friend was, in effect, in at the founding of the republic and therefore speaks with particular experience and authority. We were very grateful for his involvement in the debate.

My noble friend Lady Park painted a picture, which was then reflected in many speeches, of a country of starvation and unemployment. Clearly we are looking at the potential for a full-blown humanitarian crisis. We have heard a dreary catalogue of horrific figures: 25 per cent of the population are HIV infected; 29 per cent of children are undernourished; 35 per cent of the population have insufficient basic food; there is 80 per cent inflation; law and order is collapsing; and press freedom is suppressed, as my noble friend Lord Astor and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us. In addition, violence is everywhere—in Mashonaland, Matabeleland, Masvingo, Manicaland and the Midlands. Everywhere, day after day, miserable violence and brutality take place. Of course, that presents a direct threat to the stability of the whole of southern Africa and has very serious implications for even wider global stability.

I accept totally the corrective perspective which the noble Lord, Lord Brett, added to this gloomy picture. I believe that he was right to remind us that the situation could turn round. Potentially, Zimbabwe is a very rich country and matters could come right. But what is the condition? The condition is that the ageing tyrant Mugabe should go and that there should be free and fair elections which would see him on his way. That is the big question. Shall we be able to see those free and fair elections? At present the omens are not good.

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, there have been monstrous denunciations of the Movement for Democratic Change. There have been clear indications that Mr Mugabe wants to stay and turn up in glory at the postponed Commonwealth meeting—that is probably his ambition—a few months from now. The question of monitors seems to be on and off. I gather that, although the monitors are not to be from the EU, some will be admitted. Perhaps the noble Baroness will enlighten us on whether there will be monitors at all. If they are admitted, is it too late anyway? As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the registration process is well on its way and almost over. If that is rigged—all the evidence is that it is being rigged—we can, even now, say goodbye to the prospect of free and fair elections.

Therefore, however much one wants to be optimistic and however much one salutes, as I certainly do, the immense bravery and courage of Mr Tsvangirai and his colleagues, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brett, referred, the plain fact is that this is a rapidly deteriorating situation. It is one where I believe we have reached a turning point in relation to our own attitudes and in relation to asking ourselves what action we can possibly take.

In passing, perhaps I may reiterate a point that I believe was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and many others, including my noble friend Lady Park. Is it correct that we are sending back and rejecting for asylum MDC supporters? Can the noble Baroness tell us how many, why and in what conditions? Until we know that, I, for one, shall have a very unpleasant feeling that we are not treating our brave friends in the right way but are perhaps sending them back to a horrific fate.

The right thing for us all to have done—most of your Lordships have sought to do it—is to say, "Never mind about all the criticism and the misery. What can we do?" Perhaps the answer is that we cannot do very much, as the noble Baroness has indicated from time to time in the past. That is slightly different from the tone taken by the Prime Minister when, in an exuberant moment, he addressed his party conference. He said: There must be no tolerance for Mugabe's henchmen". I do not know whether that will be turned into practice, but it indicates that we should perhaps be a little more vigorous.

I sympathise. It is easy when not in government and when one is on this Opposition side to say, "Do something; do something". The noble Baroness would be right if she were to say that it is all too easy to produce menus of action when one is outside government. But, in the delicate position inside government, it is obviously much more difficult. However, I agree with noble Lords who have said that perhaps the point has come at which we should change gear in our tone and the vigour of our approach to this matter.

We should consider getting away from the tone of apology and inferiority complex in our language and the view that we cannot enter into this issue, even where the rule of law is being openly flouted, because we were once a colonial power, we are a northern European country, this is Africa and our writ should not run here. I believe that we can go a little further than that. We can say that we share—most of the nations of Africa aspire to share, even if they do not succeed—the values of democracy and the rule of law.

We should not have stayed silent earlier in the year when the Belgians and the French received Mugabe in great pomp and circumstance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, stated. That was a bad moment in Britain's democracy when one felt not at all proud to see the way in which the Government behaved. We should be more pressing on the European Union, even now. I believe that it is more ready to act, but we should ask it to specify at what point it will act. Will that be when the elections turn out to be unfair and not free? What kind of sanctions will be introduced? Are we suggesting a menu of actions not to be acted on now but if and when things go badly wrong? We should be unapologetic in our support for a much more vigorous Commonwealth pattern of activity. I believe that the Commonwealth Heads of Government will not meet formally until March. However, I hope that before then there will be informal meetings to discuss how they can keep up the pressure.

As my noble friend Lord Carrington rightly reminded us, we should give every encouragement and support to Mr Mbeki. As the noble Lord, Lord Brett, stated, Mr Mbeki has reached his present position—which is much more encouraging—with difficulty. Before, he had a certain relationship and respect for Mugabe. Now I think that has gone. It has been difficult for him. We should recognise that difficulty and support him and his colleagues.

We should back the SADC recommendations vigorously. Although at present SADC has moved away from the idea of sanctions, we should maintain an open and full dialogue with SADC about future dangers. We should welcome the proposal by the US Congress for targeted sanctions, which is to he signed by the President before Christmas. That reflects a completely new view in Washington of a much more robust kind and a realisation that what is happening in Zimbabwe could have major implications for stability in the entire region and even wider.

We should say openly that if the election situation spirals downwards as already looks likely and the elections are to be rigged to give Mugabe another six years of presidency finally to ruin his nation, we should consider smart sanctions and the freezing of assets. We should do more than consider them; we should work at how to bring in smart sanctions, freezing of assets, travel bans and other measures which would really begin to bring home to Mugabe and his gang that they are isolated pariahs in the world.

The truth is—this is all that needs to be said—that quiet dialogue was well-intentioned. I understand why that approach was used, but it has failed. Mr Mbeki realised that it has failed. We all know that it has failed. A turning point has been reached when we must take a stronger line, on behalf of ourselves as a nation but also with all the other multilateral groups in which we work, of which there are many. We pride ourselves on all the areas in which we operate around the world. Let us use these opportunities. In the mean time, as summarised by my noble friend Lady Park, what we see is the murder of a nation. That can be stopped, but there is not much time.

5.35 p.m.

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

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for initiating this important debate. Zimbabwe is rightly the cause of much concern and debate in this House and beyond. Noble Lords today have again given voice to that concern. We all listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He was responsible for negotiating the Lancaster House agreement. We all value his knowledge, experience and words of wisdom. I am pleased that the noble Lord was able to participate in today's debate. The many reports from Zimbabwe of politically-motivated violence directed at the political opposition, journalists, teachers, farmers and ordinary Zimbabweans are deeply worrying to the international community.

The Government of Zimbabwe have sought to portray the country's problems as the understandable consequences of a spontaneous popular clamour for land. That approach does not bear detailed scrutiny. No one doubts the urgent need for land reform in Zimbabwe, but ordinary Zimbabweans can distinguish between an effective, transparent and sustainable land reform programme and the Zimbabwe Government's current fast-track programme.

A number of noble Lords spoke specifically about land. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that it was a pity that the importance of land was not recognised at Lancaster House. In his statement to the plenary session of the Lancaster House talks on 11th October 1979, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stated: We recognise that the future government of Zimbabwe, whatever its political complexion, will wish to expand and extend its land ownership. Any resettlement scheme would clearly have to be carefully prepared and implemented to avoid adverse effects on production. The Zimbabwe Government might well wish to draw in outside donors such as the World Bank in preparing and implementing a full-scale agricultural development plan. The British Government recognise the importance of this issue to a future Zimbabwe government and will be prepared, within the limits imposed by our financial resources, to help". Given that so many Members of your Lordships' House spoke about land reform—the noble Baroness, Lady Park, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—it is important to say a little about some of the history of our relationship with the Zimbabwe Government with respect to land. Between 1980 and 1985 the UK Government provided £47 million for land reform, £20 million as a specific land resettlement grant and £27 million in the form of budgetary support to help meet the Zimbabwe Government's own contribution to the programme. Three million pounds of that money was eventually returned.

In 1998 we participated in a land reform conference in Zimbabwe and endorsed the principles agreed at that conference, as did the Government of Zimbabwe. Those principles included transparency, respect for the law, poverty reduction, affordability and consistency with Zimbabwe's wider economic interests. We remain willing to support a land reform programme that is carried out in accordance with the principles agreed by donors and the Government of Zimbabwe in 1998. In the absence of a government-led programme which we felt able to support, the Department for International Development established in March 2000 a £5 million land resettlement challenge fund to support private sector and civil society led resettlement initiatives.

Unfortunately, the Zimbabwe Government have not allowed such private sector initiatives to proceed. They pressed ahead with their fast-track resettlement programme. In late 2000, the UNDP administrator proposed to the Zimbabwe Government a slowing down of their fast-track resettlement programme to fit Zimbabwe's implementation capacity and independent monitoring of the situation in commercial farming areas, including law and order. This year, at the Abuja discussions, we reiterated our support for an effective and well-managed land reform programme and undertook to support such a land reform programme as long as the Government of Zimbabwe met their commitments under the Abuja agreement. The right reverend Prelate is right. When I went to Zimbabwe, the Commonwealth team welcomed the Zimbabwe joint resettlement initiative. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the UNDP has recently been in Zimbabwe looking at land. It has concluded its work on the ground. We expect its report shortly.

Zimbabwe's crisis goes beyond land. Its once independent judiciary has been systematically undermined; its police and armed forces have been politicised; its health and education systems are under severe strain; and its once dynamic economy has contracted by 8 per cent this year and, if that continues, it faces total de-industrialisation within three years. Zimbabwe's reputation as a friendly, attractive place to do business has been tarnished. Worse still, its economic implosion is damaging the economies, investment prospects and business confidence of its SADC neighbours.

Zimbabwe was once one of Africa's brightest stars. It is salutary to witness the decline of a country, which, at independence, had the full support of the international community. That analysis is not controversial. Even those whom President Mugabe considers to be his friends would agree with it. The real debate, as we have seen today, is about how the international community can best achieve a change in direction. There are calls from some for sanctions and travel bans, but, in the same breath, demands to get access for election observers. There are some who believe that Zimbabwe's problems can be solved by giving the Government of Zimbabwe more time and engaging it again in dialogue, despite their scant regard to date for the commitments made under the Abuja agreement.

The reality is that Zimbabwe, in the words of Malawi's Foreign Minister Patel, needs a careful and mature approach". That is a very important comment because we have worked hard to ensure that this is not a bilateral problem. Sanctions may seem attractive at first sight, but unilateral measures may not be effective. They could actually play into the hands of those who maintain that the root of the problem is the UK/Zimbabwe relationship. I shall return to that issue later. But I also recognise that open-ended dialogue has brought little progress.

I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, that what we say in this House has an impact. There is a sense that it is used to build popular support. The Government of Zimbabwe use what is said in this House and what is said by the Government to portray this issue as one which is between white and black, between the developed and the developing world and between the rich and the poor. But, and here I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, what we say also has resonance with those who want to see an end to violence and intimidation. So it is very important that the language that we use is such that the Government of Zimbabwe understand our concerns, but also that those who are in opposition understand that we want to see a different kind of situation in Zimbabwe.

As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, said, this is a situation that requires an African solution. It is clear to me from my work on the issue that if the Government of Zimbabwe are going to listen to anyone, they will listen to their closest neighbours. The best route to a resolution of Zimbabwe's crisis is sustained, focused and unremitting international pressure. We shall remain committed to our key objective—a democratic, stable and prosperous Zimbabwe.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke of the need to work with the European Union and with the Commonwealth. We have worked with allies and partners to build the broad coalition. We shall continue to do so. We are working with our EU partners through the mechanism of consultations under Article 96 of the Cotonou agreement.

We are also working with our Commonwealth partners. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, described the Commonwealth with respect to this issue as being supine. She expressed some disappointment at the Commonwealth's failure to suspend Zimbabwe. Action against a country that flouts the principles of the Harare Declaration is usually taken only in certain narrowly defined circumstances—mainly the unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government. That limit on the Commonwealth mandate is too restricted. That is why we support an expansion of the Commonwealth action group's role to cover a wider range of situations. That matter will be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in March next year.

We went the extra mile at Abuja on 6th December. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that I thought that Abuja helped. It produced a broadly acceptable framework for addressing and resolving concerns. But, as noble Lords know, the Government of Zimbabwe have failed to honour their commitment.

We are also working with SADC, and specifically with the Governments of South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana. We welcomed the visit to Harare by the SADC heads of government on 10th and 11th September and the most recent visit by Ministers earlier this week.

My noble friend Lord Hughes spoke of the importance of regional concerns. The Government of Zimbabwe have not so far responded to them. However, the important point is that all this action by the international community is complementary and a signal of growing international consensus on the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, asked specifically what we are doing to encourage President Mbeki in terms of pursuing this situation. Zimbabwe has been discussed between ourselves and the South Africans at every level. I saw at first hand, when I visited Zimbabwe as part of a Commonwealth group and we had representations from a range of stakeholders, the concerns being expressed about the breakdown of the rule of law, the importance of human rights and freedom of expression. But, we also had representations from other organisations who considered that the approach being taken by the Government of Zimbabwe was the correct one.

The result of Zimbabwe's repeated failure to work constructively with the international community is the prospect of tough joint action. We believe that that approach is beginning to work. The world knows what is happening in Zimbabwe. International opinion across Africa, Europe, North America and the Commonwealth is consistent. The 15 countries of the European Union expect Zimbabwe to return to sustainable and democratic policies by the end of January. The United States Congress has set stiff conditions for the resumption of full relations with Zimbabwe.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will meet in London on 20th November to begin preparations for the Heads of Government Meeting in Australia in March. Zimbabwe will be an item on the agenda. The UN Development Programme has recently been in Zimbabwe to see for itself what is happening on the ground.

I turn to the election which President Mugabe has said will be in March, although an actual date has not been set. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the meeting of the SADC security organ will be on 17th December, not in January.

This morning, when I gave evidence on Zimbabwe to the Foreign Affairs Committee, I said that the international community needs to be clear about the standards against which we judge whether the people of Zimbabwe have had the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights in an environment free of harassment and intimidation.

I agree with noble Lords that it is important that observers are allowed in early to enable observation of the run up to the election. The MDC is in court today to challenge the provisions of the election legislation.

My noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside, the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Howell of Guildford, and others raised the subject of international observers. We think their presence essential. President Mugabe has said that international observers will be welcome, but not from the European Union. He went on to say that there are some "good countries" in the European Union and that observers from those countries would be invited in their own right, not from the EU as a body. My noble friend Lord Brett specifically asked me to clarify that point.

With respect to what the standards might be—the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, pressed me on this—this March, SADC's parliamentary forum produced some impressive norms and standards for free and fair elections in the region. Those were agreed by parliamentarians from across the region, including Zimbabwe. It is important that a judgment on next year's election is reached according to those regional standards. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we have urged SADC to take early action.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell us how, if the SADC norms were implemented, they would allow observers to comment on or evaluate the registration process, which comes to an end a week today?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, the SADC standards were set by SADC parliamentarians. We have urged acceptance of those standards by SADC governments. Independently of that, we as an international community must be absolutely clear about the norms and standards by which we will judge whether the people of Zimbabwe have had an opportunity to exercise their democratic right in an environment free from harassment and intimidation.

I am conscious of the time, and should like to address all the questions that have been raised.

The Government of Zimbabwe know that they are heading for international isolation if they continue on their unsustainable course. I hope that noble Lords will agree that we act most effectively when we act together. Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, talked about the importance of Zimbabwe's economy. Unemployment is at 60 per cent and rising; inflation is at 86 per cent and is expected to reach 100 per cent this year. The Government of Zimbabwe's policies are extremely damaging to business and investor confidence—both within Zimbabwe and across the southern African region.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about smart sanctions and mentioned recent US legislation in particular. That was picked up by several other noble Lords. The US legislation does not mean immediate sanctions. It invites the Administration to consult on and co-ordinate international action against Zimbabwe. As such, it puts significant further pressure on Zimbabwe's ruling party. It means that the Administration can use smart sanctions if they wish to. But the passing of the legislation does not mean an automatic move to smart sanctions.

The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord St John of Bletso and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about our relationship with the EU and its work. Since March, the EU has tried to conduct a dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe. Our approach did not work, so we had no option but to consider stronger measures. Article 96 was the logical next step. It is a formal mechanism that sends the Government of Zimbabwe a clear political signal and gives them 75 days to address EU concerns. Article 96 does not mean sanctions. It provides an implicit threat, but the purpose is to find solutions with Zimbabwe and a return to Cotonou's essential elements: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. A meeting under Article 96 for dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe is scheduled for 19th December.

With respect to general sanctions, we will consider other measures as and when appropriate. We consider concerted international action to be the most effective. UN sanctions binding on all member states are the most effective option, but those would require consensus in the Security Council, which is unrealistic at this stage. However, efforts under way in the Commonwealth and the EU will receive our continued support.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, all spoke about food shortages and the possibility of a humanitarian crisis. It is already clear that Zimbabwe will be seriously short of staple grains. Those shortages have been made more certain by Zimbabwe's imposition of untenable price controls. The government confirmed to donors on 23rd October that they face a major shortfall in maize and appealed for donor support.

The United Nations Development Programme is preparing a package of measures for consideration by the donor community later this week. The Department for International Development and other donors pre-empted the Government of Zimbabwe's appeal and are providing supplementary feedings through NGOs to children and adults in the worst affected areas. There are obvious concerns that any donor response reaches the needy and will not be used for political purposes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Avebury, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Howell of Guildford, raised the subject of asylum. Members of the MDC have been seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. However, we have received no representations from the MDC on the issue. As far as we know, it is satisfied that our procedures for assessing asylum claims from Zimbabwe is fair. I will write to noble Lords on that subject, as time does not permit me to go into more detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, spoke about some difficulties facing other countries on the African continent. Noble Lords will know that the Government are committed to working in partnership with leaders in Africa who are committed to reform, to forge a new partnership to support sustainable development on the continent. That will not be easy, but that is our commitment. The comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, about the regional conflict in the Great Lakes region and Zimbabwe's relationship to it, are important to remember.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, spoke powerfully about the situation facing journalists. We protested to the Government of Zimbabwe in the strongest possible terms about remarks describing some journalists as terrorists. That is clearly absurd. We will continue to make our views clear, but, in reply to the noble Lord's specific question, I am not aware of the Government of Zimbabwe having blocked access to external broadcasting services with which they do not agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked me if we were considering what we would do if the MDC won the election. Of course, we are considering all possibilities. I thank the noble Lord for his sympathy for my position, but I hope that noble Lords recognise that my shoulders are broad enough to carry the weight of criticism from the Government of Zimbabwe and President Mugabe. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said in a slightly different context, it is like water off a duck's back.

In a more serious vein, I thank noble Lords for their recognition of the Government's work in seeking to bring about real change in Zimbabwe and their kind words on my role in that work.

In conclusion, let me make our position absolutely clear. The Government have worked tirelessly to build international consensus. We have made our views about violence and intimidation known in the strongest possible terms. The Government have not been apologetic in our handling of relations with the Government of Zimbabwe. I have sought to ensure that Members of this House understand that there are limits to our influence with the Government of Zimbabwe and that is why we have said consistently that it is important that Zimbabwe's neighbours need to make their views known to the government. That is now happening.

Let us not forget that our concern should be for the welfare of all Zimbabweans. The vast majority of the victims of violence are black Zimbabweans. At least 32 have been killed this year. Thousands have been attacked and threatened. Many live in towns and have no connection with the land occupation. Their only interest is a job, enough food to feed their families and the desire for their opinions to count. They are the reason we remain committed to finding long-term solutions to Zimbabwe's problems. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, that the people of Zimbabwe must find a solution. They have a right to matter in their own country.

6.1 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, time allows me only most warmly to thank all noble Lords who have spoken, especially my noble friend Lord Carrington, for their interesting and valuable comments. I have only two comments to make. First, I should have declared a double interest. I have family in Zimbabwe but I also have a number of African friends whom I knew in the pre-UDI days and for whom I care.

Secondly, I regard the debate as a message to the people of Zimbabwe, not to Mr Mugabe. I believe that that is worth sending. We are sending it and I hope that they will hear and know when times are better that we were their friends when times were bad. In that context, there can be no possible excuse for not giving asylum, whether or not the MDC has decided we have been fair. We must offer that asylum and give it.

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to