HL Deb 13 March 2001 vol 623 cc684-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Blaker

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their current policy towards Zimbabwe.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, we deplore the breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe and state harassment of the media, the judiciary and members of the Opposition. We are working with the international community to maintain pressure on the Zimbabwe Government to restore the rule of law and implement macro-economic reform.

In view of the deteriorating situation, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced on 1st March the withdrawal of the British Military Advisory and Training Team from Harare by the end of March. Your Lordships will recall that a national arms embargo has been in place since last May.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. In addition to the problems which the Minister mentioned, is not the economy in a terrible state and do not breaches of human rights occur every day? Does not the situation in Zimbabwe endanger the stability of the whole of Southern Africa? Furthermore, does not the matter call for international remedy? What are the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the European Union, the Group of Eight and the Southern Africa Development Community doing about the matter? We should bear in mind that the United Kingdom is a member of four of those five organisations.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, is absolutely right. All those organisations are very concerned about the state of matters in Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord points out, the human rights violations are very disturbing. These are well documented in the press. As he also rightly points out, the economy is extremely worrying—unemployment is 50 per cent and rising; inflation is 70 per cent and expected to rise; and there is a negative growth of 6 per cent to 10 per cent this year. One does not need to be an economist to know what that must mean for a country.

The noble Lord mentioned some organisations. Together with our European Union partners, we are engaged in critical dialogue with the Zimbabwe Government in a very tight timeframe. The UN special rapporteur on the judiciary has issued several concerned statements in relation to what is happening in Zimbabwe about the independence of the judiciary. That is a violation of the Harare principles which Zimbabwe is supposed to be observing. I shall not go into details of the other organisations, but noble Lords can rest assured that we are extremely active in every possible organisation in trying to improve the situation in Zimbabwe.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, can the Minister say why the speeches of Herr Haider managed to provoke such an immediate and effective reaction? Yet after months of rape, pillage and murder authorised by a president who could not be worse, we have nothing. Why does it take so long for action to be taken? What are we actually waiting for?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, Austria is a member of the European Union. The other members of the European Union took the action that they thought lit. I am very pleased to hear the noble Lord describe that action as effective. Zimbabwe is a member of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is looking at the situation. However, noble Lords will know that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group can consider suspension only in the case of an unconstitutional overthrow of the government. It is no secret that the British Government think that that mandate should be broadened and should include the ability to start to say and do things about what is happening inside Commonwealth countries before it reaches the apocalyptic stage of an unconstitutional overthrow of the government. If that could be done, one could have more preventive action instead of just punitive action, which, unfortunately, is all that is available to the Commonwealth at the moment other than trying to influence informally.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, can my noble friend say—

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm—

Noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, we have plenty of time. If my noble friend Lord Hughes asks his question, we can then perhaps hear from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, can my noble friend say what recent discussions the Government have had with the Movement for Democratic Change, which certainly appeared to be ambivalent about Britain's role in the Zimbabwe situation? There is no doubt that the situation is serious and has to be condemned, but is it not the case that the MDC, while condemning the receiving of President Mugabe by President Chirac, has also asked the British Government to keep their military mission in Zimbabwe and to continue the dialogue with President Mugabe? Perhaps that is why it has taken so long to get a decision.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, we do have contacts with the MDC. My noble friend Lord Hughes is absolutely right. For example, Morgan Tsvangirai has made it clear that he does not want the UK to try to impose any sanctions, which he fears will unite people behind President Mugabe, and he wants there to be a dialogue with President Mugabe. That is why both we and our other European Union partners are in favour, for the time being, of having a critical dialogue with President Mugabe.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the Government have no intention of reducing the amount of aid being sent to Zimbabwe at the present time? That aid is focused on humanitarian needs, especially in the area of reducing the effects of AIDS, and any reduction would have a disastrous effect on the people of Zimbabwe.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. We continue to maintain a bilateral development programme in Zimbabwe for which the 2000–01 allocation is around £14 million. That programme is focused on health issues such as AI DS and HIV prevention programmes, rural water and sanitation measures, along with the reform of local governance and human rights. Sixty-three per cent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. We have a responsibility to try to help those people, what ever the Government of Zimbabwe are doing.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, can the noble Baroness shed some light on what the French Government are up to in Zimbabwe? Is it just possible that President Chirac has discovered that he has rather a lot in common with Mr Mugabe?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the recent meetings in Europe with President Mugabe were an opportunity for members of the European Union to bring home to President Mugabe the seriousness of the situation in which Zimbabwe finds itself today. It is now a matter of real urgency that President Mugabe and the Government of Zimbabwe turn back from the course on which they are embarked and reaffirm the primacy of the rule of law, the institutions of democracy and the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Our European Union partners are well aware of our concern at the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. In all these regards, they share our concern.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, what is the Government's position on land reform in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, we have consistently said that we would support a land reform programme which was transparent, fair and cost effective and which formed part of a wider Zimbabwe government programme to reduce poverty, as was agreed by the Government of Zimbabwe themselves in the 1998 land conference. As my noble friend Lady Amos told the House last Wednesday, we are working with civil society and private sector representatives to support independent land reform initiatives that meet those principles. But the point is that the fast-track programme does not meet those conditions. We would urge the Government of Zimbabwe to take immediate steps to end the illegal occupation of farms and restore the rule of law.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, if I may return to the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Blaker, will the policy of critical dialogue work? Will it lead to President Mugabe withdrawing gracefully? Is not the opposite more likely to happen? Is not the relative silence which this critical dialogue policy involves actually encouraging President Mugabe to dig in and to prolong his barbarity and his undermining of the rule of law in Zimbabwe? Should we not now heed the loud plea of the very brave leader of the opposition, Mr Tsvangirai, who is calling for stronger international action? Is it not time that the Government responded to that plea?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the point is that Mr Tsvangirai is very measured in what he thinks ought to be done. As I said, we are in contact with him and his party. On the question of the success or otherwise of a policy of critical dialogue, it takes time. It is not silent just because it is not megaphone diplomacy and is not on the front page of all the newspapers. Critical dialogue goes on quite loudly behind closed doors. That is the European Union's policy.

As far as concerns the Commonwealth, the British Government think—they have made no secret of their position—that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should have a wider mandate and should be able to intervene in pressure terms in countries where there is not a constitutional overthrow of the government. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has had discussions with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. A team is going out to Zimbabwe to look at land reform. We would like it to look at everything in context, so that it is not just a straight technical viewing of land reform, and report back to the Commonwealth. There are many different pressure points. I can only repeat my assurance to the House that the Government are pressing all of those pressure points as hard as they can at all times.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly confirm that there is a land reform plan on the table at this moment? It has been put forward by the United Nations Development Programme. What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to that?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Earl is right. That is the case. We are waiting for a response from the Government of Zimbabwe to that plan. We will look at any plan that fulfils the basic conditions of decent, honest and transparent land reform.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, has not the noble Baroness put her finger on the issue with her reference to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group? Does not this now lie with the leaders of other Commonwealth countries in southern Africa, the effect on whose investments and prospects for their economies is deeply prejudiced by what is happening in Zimbabwe? They need to take a stronger lead in trying to persuade President Mugabe to accept rational and sensible outcomes to some of the issues such as land reform over which he has been so obstreperous in the recent past.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right.