HL Deb 17 July 2001 vol 626 cc1380-2

3.13 p.m.

Lord Blaker

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they expect any change to be made at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to the core values and principles of the Commonwealth.

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

My Lords, the Commonwealth's fundamental principles are set out in the Singapore Declaration of 1971 and in the Harare Declaration of 1991. The Commonwealth High Level Group, of which the UK is a member, will present to the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane a report containing recommendations on the future direction of the Commonwealth, including its fundamental principles.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that the core values and principles of the Commonwealth include democracy, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government, and fundamental human rights? Is not the reign of terror which has been conducted for the past two years in Zimbabwe a flagrant breach of those values and principles? If the situation in Zimbabwe is not resolved for the better before or at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Commonwealth will begin to fall into disrepute.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary all fall within the Harare Declaration. A number of my ministerial colleagues and I have made it absolutely clear that we want to see a stable Zimbabwe, with economic and political policies which will enable Zimbabwe to reach its potential. We have worked tirelessly with the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the European Union; we have shared with African leaders our concerns about some of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Indeed, the noble Lord may recall that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agreed that a group of Ministers should go to Zimbabwe to find out exactly what was happening in that country.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that since the last election in Zimbabwe there has been, by any standards, an uninterrupted record of barbarity and breaches of the law in that country? Ministers know perfectly well what is happening yet no sanctions whatever have been taken against a government who are behaving against every tenet of acceptable conduct.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, this question has been raised several times in relation to Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth. I believe that noble Lords understand the position in relation to the Commonwealth, but perhaps I need to repeat it. Action against a country which flouts the principles of the Harare Declaration can be taken only in certain narrowly defined circumstances—mainly, the unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government. This does not apply to Zimbabwe.

The limitation of the Commonwealth mandate to unconstitutional overthrow is, in our view, too restrictive. We have made that absolutely clear. That is why we have supported an expansion of CMAG's role to cover a wider range of situations. The High Level Group has been looking at this issue and is due to report at Brisbane in October.

Lord Richard

My Lords, do the Government intend to raise the issue of what is going on in Zimbabwe specifically at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting? I am bound to tell my noble friend that her previous answer gave the impression that they do not.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the issue of Zimbabwe was raised at the last CMAG meeting. There is a proposal that a small group representing CMAG should go to Zimbabwe. There is an alternative proposal, which has been made by Nigeria and South Africa, that a wider group of Commonwealth Ministers should come together to discuss Zimbabwe. We are watching these developments with interest. We have not yet been able to make a decision on what our own role in that should be. We are awaiting clarification in relation to that. We have been involved with the European Union in terms of the critical dialogue with Zimbabwe. It is important for us to take this issue stage by stage. There will, of course, be a report from CMAG to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and we shall see what arises from that.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords—

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, the Minister said that there will be a review of the—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, perhaps we should hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is it not the position that the policy of critical dialogue and quiet discussion with Zimbabwe has failed? Has not President Mbeki of South Africa admitted that it has failed? Is it not now time for a much firmer policy? Given that all the principles outlined by my noble friend Lord Blaker are being flouted by President Mugabe, is it not time for the Commonwealth leaders to warn that if things have not improved by the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Zimbabwe will be asked to leave the Commonwealth?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I am not making myself absolutely clear. The Commonwealth works by consensus. Britain is a part of a much wider group. We have to ensure that we work with those in the Commonwealth and our other international partners who have expressed concern about this matter.