HL Deb 21 March 2002 vol 632 cc1475-87

3.33 p.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

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

"With permission, I should like to make a Statement on Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth.

"As the House will be aware, a Commonwealth 'troika' consisting of Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Obasanjo of Nigeria and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia was authorised by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to review the outcome of the Zimbabwe elections in the light of the Commonwealth observers' report, and to decide on any action.

"The troika met in London on Tuesday. It had before it the final report of the Commonwealth observers group. This confirmed the findings of the preliminary report which I put before the House in my Statement last Thursday. The group concluded that, the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors". "The troika accepted the conclusions in full and decided as a result to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year with immediate effect. This issue will be revisited in 12 months' time, having regard to progress in Zimbabwe, based on the Commonwealth Harare principles and reports from the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our appreciation to Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo and Prime Minister Howard and in expressing our full support for their conclusions.

"Three months ago, on 20th December, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, of which I was a member, concluded that Zimbabwe was in 'serious and persistent violation' of the Harare principles. It was my view at that stage that Zimbabwe should, then and there, be suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth. I made this case again at CM AG at the end of January, as did my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at CHOGM itself in early March. As the situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated day by day since December, it follows that we believe that suspension now is fully justified.

"The Commonwealth depends above all on its moral authority, and on the force of the principles which it codified in Harare itself in 1991. That is why the decision was so important for the Commonwealth as a whole, as well as, of course, for Zimbabwe. And that moral authority is what gives this decision its force.

"I am in no doubt, from the way in which the Government of Zimbabwe had sought actively to divide the Commonwealth, that they were, and are, profoundly concerned about the international isolation which suspension signals. Tuesday's decision was, therefore, significant in many respects: above all, for the fact that leaders of two key African nations have taken a clear and definitive stand in defence of the Commonwealth's fundamental principles. They have also underlined Africa's commitment to the universal and indivisible principles of democracy and human rights.

"Suspension is one of the strongest measures the Commonwealth can impose. In the past, countries have only been suspended after the violent overthrow of their elected governments. Zimbabwe's suspension is, therefore, a new departure.

"Moreover, the Commonwealth's decision is in addition to the targeted sanctions which the European Union, the United States and now Switzerland have imposed against the leaders of ZANU-PF. EU Heads of Government also decided, at the European Council in Barcelona last weekend, to ask Foreign Ministers to look at options for further measures.

"What has happened in Zimbabwe is a tragedy, imposed on this once prosperous land by Robert Mugabe. Our commitment and that of the Commonwealth to the people of Zimbabwe remains as strong as ever. We have made it clear, since 1997, that the case for land reform in Zimbabwe is very strong, and that we were willing to provide considerable financial support to a land reform process that was transparent, lawful, and which gave priority to the needs of Zimbabweans in overcrowded communal lands. This was a position supported by the international community but rejected by the Mugabe regime.

"At Abuja, in early September last year, we agreed a pathway for Zimbabwe which would have allowed for a resumption of international aid, including from the United Kingdom, for a programme of sustainable land reform implemented in accordance with the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law, and a return to democratic principles and to sensible economic policies, is the only way back. We remain ready to do all we can to achieve this; and we will continue our programmes of assistance for humanitarian and HIV/AIDS projects. But I must tell the House that in the short term the prospects in Zimbabwe look bleak, underlined by the murders since the election of M DC activists and a commercial farmer, and the fact that the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has now formally been charged with treason.

"Today, it is all the more urgent that the Government of Zimbabwe commit themselves—as the leaders of the Commonwealth have called for — to healing the divisions in the country and taking the path of genuine reform and national reconciliation. We shall do all that we can to support Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo, and other African partners, in their efforts to bring stability back to Zimbabwe. This is what the people of Zimbabwe desperately need. Today, the whole of the democratic world supports them in this goal".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.39 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We fully share the welcome that she and the Foreign Secretary gave to the conclusions of the Commonwealth troika. We look on those conclusions with a feeling of relief, because if they had gone otherwise the future of the Commonwealth would have been threatened. This is a good moment in an otherwise dark scene. I also share the Minister's desire to pay tribute to Prime Minister Howard and Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki for having the courage to reach those conclusions, which are said to be already of immense comfort to the brave people of Zimbabwe.

I am sure that the noble Baroness recognises that the conclusions come too late for the murdered farmer, Terry Ford, and for all the other victims of multiple murders. They come too late for all the farm workers who have been beaten to pulp, too late for the security guards who tried to defend the farms and too late for those Zimbabweans who may be dying of starvation. However, better late than never, I suppose. This is a positive move, without doubt.

Has the noble Baroness noticed that the US State Department, which usually moves very slowly, has already come out with a strong statement condemning the intimidation and underscoring the illegitimacy of the Mugabe regime? The Statement that we have just heard speaks of the need to do all that we can. Can we have an assurance that there will be real, positive and continuing efforts to form a coalition of democracies to maintain all possible pressures, including the targeted sanctions and other measures—of which we would like some indication of the nature—to ensure that the Mugabe regime remains under pressure until there is agreement for fresh and democratic elections and a new approach? Does she agree that any arrangement that ended up with some kind of sordid deal with Mr Mugabe and anything that legitimised him would be completely unsatisfactory and would continue to threaten the stability of the region?

What will be done about Mr Tsvangirai, who is mentioned in the Statement? He has now been threatened on trumped-up charges. Can something more be done to prevent this brave man being caught up in the vindictiveness of Mr Mugabe? Do the Government agree that the only discussions that there should be with Mugabe are about the arrangements necessary for new and democratic elections?

Does the noble Baroness agree that southern Africa will recover from its present dire straits only if justice returns and Mugabe goes? Can she explain how it is that, while Mr Mbeki has courageously supported the conclusions, the South African Parliament apparently recognises the legitimacy of Mr Mugabe, which is a fatal move? Does she recognise that the new African economic partnership—NePAD—will succeed only if the rule of law is properly and firmly restored in southern Africa?

Can the noble Baroness tell us about the status of our high commission in Harare now that we no longer recognise the legitimacy of the government there? There are brave public servants in our high commission who are doing valuable work. If we are to maintain the humanitarian aid to starving Zimbabweans that will be needed, presumably we shall reinforce the staff there. Will she confirm the status of the commission and whether we shall be enlarging it if we can so that it can help people in their dreadful plight?

Does the noble Baroness accept that before we do any of that, we need an honest government in Harare—which at the moment we have not got?

3.43 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Government for the Statement. I recognise that the British Government, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, have worked extremely hard on the issue and that we have limited influence over events in Zimbabwe. The older Members of this House may remember that in 1965 some members of my party were in favour of direct intervention in what was then Rhodesia to prevent a unilateral declaration of independence. I am not aware that any party in this country, even the Conservatives, now proposes such direct intervention. We have limited influence and we have to recognise the need to work with others multilaterally to bring what influence we can to bear. The Government have done well in that task. This is a good day for the Commonwealth. Despite the gloomy predictions from the Conservatives in both Houses of the impending dissolution of the Commonwealth, that prospect is clearly past for the time being.

How active a role is it intended that the Commonwealth, and in particular the troika, will retain over the coming months as a watching brief, in view of continuing developments in Zimbabwe? In particular, what contingency plans are we making against the prospect of a further deterioration of the Zimbabwean economy in the coming months, with the likelihood of a spillover of refugees into neighbouring countries? That clearly threatens to destabilise the weak economies of southern Africa as a whole. It therefore seems extremely important to work with the neighbours, particularly Mozambique and South Africa, on limiting the damage to the region and, whenever possible, to provide food and aid. We all recognise that we have to contain a possible further collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. In that context, using the Commonwealth and our other multilateral relations, we should continue to promote good governance as the path to development in Africa, in particular through the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

I have one small partisan point to make. I hope that Anglo-Saxon interventions in promoting good governance in Africa will have an element of humility. A strong comment was made by the US Administration against the idea of fixing elections rather than allowing full democracy. I am conscious that there is sometimes a tendency in this country to demand that other countries should have clear democracies that represent the will of a majority of the people. We do not have that in this country, so perhaps we should be a little more delicate in how we promote standards of democracy higher than our own.

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for their responses. Of course, like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I fully support the views of the troika. That was clear from my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Lord then said that it came too late for many of the victims of the violence in Zimbabwe. I hope that he does not think that statements in themselves would have stopped the murderous intent of the regime in Zimbabwe. He cannot really believe that more statements would have been enough. Goodness knows, many Statements were made from this Dispatch Box and in another place about the contempt felt for some of the acts of the Zimbabwean Government. To imply that statements in themselves stop murderous intent is not fully to appreciate the position.

I agree that the statement made by the US State Department is very welcome. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord that honest government in Zimbabwe must be the first priority. As my noble friend has said on many occasions from this Dispatch Box, we must not forget that we are dealing with a sovereign government in Zimbabwe and that we do not have the ability simply to say what should be done there and expect that it will happen as night follows day.

As both noble Lords have said, we must look to what can happen next. The EU heads of government instructed Foreign Ministers last weekend to consider further what measures can be taken in Zimbabwe, including possible further sanctions. The United States Government, with whom we are in close touch, have said that they will increase sanctions. The Government of New Zealand have said that they are considering imposing sanctions. The Government of Switzerland have already imposed sanctions, which bring them into line with EU sanctions.

As the Commonwealth troika conclusions made clear, Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo are working hard on a programme of reconciliation. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be working to ensure that we give what support we can to Zimbabwe, but, touching on some of the economic questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, we shall also look to the IMF and the World Bank to deny the current Zimbabwe regime access to financial support. I am sure that the House would expect no less in terms of sanctions. Given events not so much in the elections but in the run-up to the elections, Mugabe has to be denied what would normally have been his right.

I do not think that we should be in any doubt about this: it is going to be a very long haul indeed. President Mugabe, as he has demonstrated all too clearly, is determined to cling to power for as long as he can. I hope that I have indicated some of the ways in which Her Majesty's Government are working with others to ensure that that is for as short a time as possible.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his comments not only about my right honourable friends in another place but about my colleague in this House, Lady Amos. I wish that she had had the pleasure of making this Statement today. I believe that her endeavour in so many ways—working tirelessly not only in the multilateral forums, one of which she is attending today, in Monterrey, but with many leaders in Africa—has been a key element in bringing us to where we are today. I acknowledge that fully, and I hope that the House will join me in that acknowledgement.

We have to examine what can be done to distinguish the regime in Zimbabwe from the people of Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, Zimbabwe's economic position is appalling: unemployment is currently 60 per cent; inflation is 112 per cent; 35 per cent of the adult population are suffering from HIV/AIDS; and 63 per cent of the population are below the poverty line. All that is occurring in a country that was once a hallmark for prosperity in Africa.

The suspension of technical aid is one of the sanctions attending Zimbabwe's suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth. That does not involve the suspension of aid which might help in the restoration of democracy. The Commonwealth has drawn that distinction in determining how the suspension will work. It is therefore very much to be hoped that the money for the restoration of democracy will continue to be provided.

As for the arrest and charging of Mr Tsvangirai, Mr Tsvangirai is now out on bail. We can, however, do only a limited amount in a sovereign state. Although we can monitor events, comment, and bring pressure to bear, as we have already done, the Government of Zimbabwe are continuing to harass leaders of the opposition. They must face the consequences of so doing.

As for the status of our mission in Harare, the mission remains, and there is no question of withdrawing any of our diplomats. Some 40,000 British citizens are in Zimbabwe and they will need the protection of our mission there more than ever. I hope that all noble Lords send them a strong message of support from this House for the sterling work they are doing.

3.53 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I join in welcoming the Statement from the Foreign Secretary, and particularly the fact that it has restored the Commonwealth's credibility. I should like particularly to commend its call for the, Government of Zimbabwe to commit themselves to healing the divisions in the country and taking the path of genuine reform and national reconciliation". In that regard, can the Minister outline what measures the troika and Her Majesty's Government are taking to encourage a government of national unity in Zimbabwe?

I also commend the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. I should, however, like to make one slight alteration to an answer which she gave me in reply to a question I asked her on Tuesday, when I contended that the South African observer mission's report had been politically rigged. The noble Baroness said: the South African parliamentary observers team has dropped its conclusion that the elections were substantially free and fair".—[Official Report, 19/03/02; col. 1230.] That is not the case. The South African observers mission has not dropped its contentions, but President Mbeki has dropped certain comments on his website.

I also revert to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who asked how the Government of Zimbabwe can heal the division when the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and the MDC secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, have been formally charged with treason. Moreover, in South Africa, the ANC secretary-general has recently described Morgan Tsvangirai's arrest and charging as "part of the healing process". Surely that is extremely worrying.

Finally, will the Minister outline what action is being taken to alleviate the severe food shortage, the prospect of mass starvation, and the refugee flight to South Africa which is likely to ensue if the situation is exacerbated?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. He is quite right. There are enormous problems in achieving genuine reform—particularly national reconciliation and a government of national unity—when it is so painfully evident that the current government do not want to be a party to anything of the sort, and when they—as the noble Lord rightly reminded us—have not only arrested but charged Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube. That is why it is so important that the troika has agreed that work on these issues should be taken forward by Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo.

I agree with the noble Lord that, immediately after the election in Zimbabwe, there was some confusion about what was thought by a very small number of people to have been a fair election. When the more substantial reports were properly examined, it was decided that that was not really the case. I remind him of the statement made by the SADC parliamentary forum observer on 13th March: The climate of insecurity obtaining in Zimbabwe since the 2000 parliamentary elections was such that the electoral process could not be said to adequately comply with the Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC region". I think that that is an extremely reassuring statement.

I fully take the noble Lord's point that we must now be very vigilant. The issue of what is to happen to those arrested and charged with treason—although, as I said, they are out on bail—is another reason for maintaining the full strength of our diplomatic mission in Zimbabwe. We shall be looking for regular reports on those issues.

The food shortages are causing great worry and concern. Donors are already providing supplementary feeding through the NGOs. Our own Department for International Development has given £4 million of assistance to some 300,000 people. Additionally, last month, DfID made a £6 million contribution to the UN DP's humanitarian assistance and recovery programme for Zimbabwe. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be keeping that issue under constant review.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I join those who have congratulated the Government on the part they have played in bringing about the troika's decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. However, no one who is a friend of Zimbabwe takes any pleasure from the suspension as it marks a very serious situation. Does my noble friend agree that the attacks on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and on trade unionists trying to exercise a legitimate right to strike concerns everyone, and that the clearly contrived charges brought against the MDC leaders do not help the situation? Does she also, however, agree that sanctions are not the magic bullet which will suddenly transform Zimbabwe from its currently parlous state into a world democracy? Should we not also recall the other part of the troika's statement—that it and the Commonwealth need to remain engaged with Zimbabwe?

The Opposition spokesman seemed to suggest that in no circumstances should we have any contact with anyone in the Zimbabwe Government. Taking that view to its logical conclusion, should he not be advocating withdrawing Britain's mission, unpalatable as that may be? My noble friend has said that the opposite action is required. Can my noble friend assure the House that, as well as the sanctions which have to be applied, every possible means and method of discussion and dialogue will be used to bring about a resolution as early as possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, my noble friend draws an important and valuable distinction when he refers to suspending our contacts at an official level with the Government of Zimbabwe while at the same time trying to have proper discussions with those with whom we can do business there. If it is possible in future to have discussions with those in the Mugabe regime who are willing to talk in terms of reconciliation for the future, that would be valuable.

I agree strongly with my noble friend's remarks regarding the violent attacks on trade unions. The NGO figures suggest that about 73 per cent of the perpetrators of violence appear to be affiliated to ZANU-PF, and 16 per cent are police officers, which is extremely worrying. As your Lordships may know, between 1st January and 28th February this year, 31 people were killed in politically-motivated attacks. Nearly all of those were black Zimbabweans. As we have seen, three members of the MDC have been murdered since the election and one commercial farmer tragically lost his life.

My noble friend is right. Sanctions are never a magic bullet, but they signify an important measure of outrage and disgust about what has happened in Zimbabwe. It is worth noting what suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth will mean. It means that there will be no participation by the Government of Zimbabwe in intergovernmental meetings, but it does not deprive the people of Zimbabwe of cultural and sporting activities which may be organised by the Commonwealth.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it was enormously fortunate and right that the Government increased the number of Commonwealth observers? We have seen what a happy result that gave. However, there is a lesson to be learnt. I entirely share—as we all do—the Minister's admiration for what the mission in Zimbabwe is doing. I hope that we shall not only leave it in place but greatly increase it. The only thing we can do, which no sovereign government can refuse, is to observe and report and be seen to be doing so, particularly now that the laws against the media are being further tightened.

I hope that it will be possible for there to be an element of observation from the high commission of the dispensing of our humanitarian aid, for instance, so that it is not taken over by ZANU-PF and used to reward its people. My other point is that I hope that we shall persuade the rest of the EU to stay and report. I was rather concerned to see that the Danish mission is withdrawing. The one thing that can be done is to stay and report and be seen to do so.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, perhaps in turn I may thank the noble Baroness for her timely intervention on the subject of Commonwealth observers. Your Lordships may remember that, as always, she was forthright in pointing out some of the shortcomings in the number of Commonwealth observers. I was delighted that the Government were able to increase the numbers significantly. I agree that we should keep the numbers in our mission in Zimbabwe under constant review. It is enormously important that their role in observing what is happening on the ground is maintained. The noble Baroness spoke about how aid might be used in a way not intended by the donors. We shall have to keep that in mind, as I am sure my noble friend Lady Amos would agree.

The noble Baroness is right. We should try to persuade others not to withdraw their mission. She will know that withdrawing a mission is a potent signal of disapprobation that governments use to indicate the depth of their anger about what has happened within a country. I understand the motivation of our Danish friends in acting as they have. However, my own view is that we should like to see many of our colleagues who value the principles of democracy and humanitarian assistance stay on the ground. That will strengthen those who are able to give honest reports about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, we should not underestimate the horrors which have occurred in Zimbabwe. However, should we not look ahead on a wider basis to consider how the atmosphere might be changed for the better in the whole of southern Africa? Is not the main and most urgent problem facing all the SADC countries that of economic reconstruction so that they can play their part as a whole in the New Partnership for Africa's Development? As that will require substantial changes in policy, not least in Zimbabwe under whatever government, will it not require outstanding leadership? Is there not an outstanding leader available in southern Africa—I hope that he is available—in the form of Nelson Mandela? Would the Government, with our European allies, consider whether that is a thought which might be pursued?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, will know that the NePAD initiative is designed to help southern Africa, both in terms of resources and expertise, to achieve much-needed economic reconstruction. An element of that will be that those who receive such aid and resources should embrace not only the spirit and instruments of democracy but everything that is implied by civil government and the rule of law. In a nutshell, that is what is being negotiated. I am sure that my noble friend will pursue that agenda in her discussions in Monterrey today. Leadership is an important and extremely potent factor in making such an initiative work. A number of individuals in southern African may be able to contribute to that. Given the enormously high esteem in which he is rightly held, not only on the continent of Africa but throughout the world, I am sure that the blessing of Nelson Mandela would prove enormously important to the initiative and its chances of success. However, more than one or two leaders will be needed to ensure that the initiative is a real success.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, as someone who was Commonwealth Secretary during the period of UDI, perhaps I may suggest to the Minister, echoing the words of my noble friend Lord Wallace, that the role of Her Majesty's Government in this difficult relationship with Zimbabwe is best played with a degree of humility about the past. Is the Minister aware how much the success of the troika will be welcomed in deciding to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for one year? That will allow other members of the Commonwealth to take a more high-profile role in dealing which such problems, while behind the scenes, and maintaining our own mission there, we play a less prominent role. The Zimbabwe problem is a Commonwealth problem of great importance, but it is one for the Commonwealth as a whole. The more Her Majesty's Government play their role with some delicacy and a low profile, the more successful the outcome may be.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there is an enormous amount of wisdom in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. I hope that the Government have been seen to be firm in their resolve. My noble friend and my right honourable friends have done their best to work behind the scenes to secure the objective about which we have been clear. As the Statement indicated, we have been working for suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth for a matter of months. The noble Lord is right. This cannot be seen to be a one-country show.

As the Statement indicated, it was clear early on in the discussions that the Zimbabwean Government would do everything that they could to make this an issue between the white Commonwealth—those predominantly from the European-based nations—and those from the African-based nations. That would have been an extremely damaging development had it had any success. But it was not successful, which is exactly the point. The value of the troika was that President Obasanjo and President Mbeki both have great wisdom and experience. It will now be extraordinarily difficult for Mr Mugabe to claim that it was some sort of conspiracy led by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom took no part in the troika. We are also extremely grateful for the part played by Prime Minister Howard.

It is right to ensure that this is not seen as the United Kingdom being out alone on the issue. We have a special relationship with Zimbabwe. We have a historical relationship and 40,000 of our citizens live in that country. We have particular responsibilities, which none of us want to set on one side. Having said that, we have constantly made it clear that this is a matter for the whole Commonwealth. I am delighted that the Commonwealth has acknowledged that and that it will be working in the next year to try to bring the Government of Zimbabwe to a more sensible course of action.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Baroness has done well to remind us that there are 40,000 British citizens still living in Zimbabwe. We also know from experience that Mr Mugabe and his party are spiteful. In the event of their taking out their spite on those 40,000 British citizens, are there contingency plans to make sure that they will be rescued and defended?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there is a contingency plan, but I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that there is a similar contingency plan for many other countries. As many of your Lordships will know, we have a warden network around the country to enable us to maintain good communications with the resident British community. I assure your Lordships that that civil contingency plan is reviewed and updated regularly.

The responsibility for ensuring law and order in Zimbabwe cannot be shouldered by the British mission in Zimbabwe. The responsibility lies full square on the Zimbabwean Government's shoulders. I should not want anything that I have said about civil contingency plans— important though they are—to be thought in any way to be relieving the authorities of that country of their obligation to look after all citizens, irrespective of their nationality or where they live. I hope that that message will be firmly understood.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, said, how can the Government ensure that any financial support given to restore democracy in Zimbabwe is used for that purpose and does not go towards lining the pockets of the present government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in countries where we have had the problem of the possibility of governments diverting aid funds from the legitimate purpose for which they were sent and using them for illegitimate purposes we have channelled funds through non-governmental organisations. I am sure that that issue is under review by my colleagues in the Department for International Development. It is another of the functions of our extremely hard-working mission on the ground, and others, to ensure that such matters are kept fully up to date.

I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish to imply that we should not send much-needed aid for food. As I tried to explain, the levels of hunger and food shortages are enormously difficult problems in Zimbabwe. It is right to send what aid we can to ensure that democracy, fragile as it is, has a chance to flourish and that civil life has a chance to grow as well. We try to do what we can through the NGOs but we also keep very close observance on the ground about what happens to our funds.