HL Deb 06 November 2002 vol 640 cc712-4

2.46 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to allegations of political manipulation of food aid in Zimbabwe.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, it is a fundamental principle of all humanitarian assistance and agencies working in Zimbabwe that humanitarian aid is targeted on the basis of need alone. We deplore the blatant use of food for political gain in the recent Insiza by-election and the obstruction of the work of some non-governmental organisations, which appears to be politically motivated. Aid has been suspended where there have been credible reports of abuse.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that there is no shortage of food aid to Zimbabwe? Tonnes of grain lie rotting at the Breitbridge border post and in Durban because of the monopoly of the grain marketing board. Is she further aware that that board is headed by Air Marshal Shiri, who was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Matabele 20 years ago and is now systematically starving people and then supplying food in order to manipulate the electorate and enable Mugabe to cling to power?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. There is food aid that could be got to many starving people in Zimbabwe. A frightening statistic is that by the end of this year we believe that 7 million people—that is, half of the population of Zimbabwe—will be in need of food assistance. The monopoly of the grain marketing board means that DfID does not have control over distribution through the marketing board. Where we do have control—that is, through the World Food Programme and NGOs—we monitor the situation very carefully. Where abuse is evident, we stop the aid.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is now overwhelming evidence in Zimbabwe of partisan distribution of food aid and that the ZANU-PF militia is using starvation as a political tool? Is she also aware of growing concerns in Matabeleland of another wave of genocide?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords, we are very much aware of the point raised by the noble Lord today and in our debate last Friday. He makes the point well and does so rightly. As he knows, ZANU-PF seized 3 tonnes of grain from the World Food Programme, as a result of which the WFP had to suspend distribution. We are aware of what is going on. Where we have control and are in touch, as donors, with NGOs and through our relationship with the World Food Programme, we do everything we can to ensure that the poor people of Zimbabwe are looked after.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, at times of such famine and such distress, it is usually the women and children who suffer disproportionately? Can my noble friend tell the House whether any specific actions have been taken in order to ease their burden?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I believe that the whole House will agree that DfID's record in Zimbabwe has been very strong. A year ago, when it saw the humanitarian crisis that was developing, DfID put into place a £2 million supplementary feeding programme which meets the needs of some of the children, pregnant women and nursing mothers so that at least they have a meal a day.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, is the Minister aware of reports of Hutus from the Democratic Republic of Congo being trained in Zimbabwe in what one might call "advanced military techniques"? Secondly, given that the Minister has pointed out that DfID's major weapon is to refuse food aid where there is evidence of clear political manoeuvring in its distribution, is there any possibility that, by approaching NePAD or the other southern African countries Mozambique, Angola, South Africa and so on—we can get an African group to beg the Government of Zimbabwe to allow the food to be properly distributed?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, because of her great experience in this area the noble Baroness will know that the agenda of the SADC/EU meeting, which my noble friend Lady Amos is attending at the moment, includes not only political issues in Zimbabwe but also the question of how we shall overcome the impending humanitarian crisis in the whole of southern Africa. That is very much part of the SADC/EU agenda.

Lord Judd

My Lords, My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us who were closely identified with the Zimbabwean struggle for liberation when it was based in Mozambique feel nothing but dismay at the way some people have shanghaied power for their own interests and are indulging in corruption and allowing themselves to be led by greed at the expense of the people as a whole? Does she accept that strong support exists for the Government in their determination to see that, whatever is done in response to the awful things that are happening in Zimbabwe, the ordinary, innocent people will not suffer? Does she also accept the need for maximum co-operation in the strategy between government and humanitarian, nongovernmental organisations, which have a very special role to play?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The whole strategy of the Government has been to isolate the corrupt regime but to support as much as possible the people of Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we have another important Question and we are in the 23rd minute.