HL Deb 08 October 2002 vol 639 cc207-23

7.34 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the recent developments in Zimbabwe.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the excellent House of Commons report on Zimbabwe (HC 813) was published just as the House rose for the recess. I hope that it will be fully debated in due course. Meanwhile, I want to review briefly what is happening to what was so recently a thriving economy and a country free of racial tension and, above all, one where the rule of law prevailed. No longer.

The land reform programme is not being implemented just to redistribute land from the rich white farmer to the landless black African, although many of those farmers bought their land legally from the state well after independence as derelict land and then created viable farms employing a number of Africans. It is an exercise in naked power. Two years on, that is the only objective that has been achieved. And at what cost.

On the land, the eviction of the white farmers has meant the eviction also of their African workers. Of 4,000 white-owned farms, a recent survey shows, 2,900 have been served with eviction orders. Of those farmers, more than 1,000 owned only one farm. Incidentally, the white fanners owned not 76 per cent but 29 per cent of the arable land. The farms produced 90 per cent of the wheat crop, which this year will be less than half last year's crop, not least because farmers have been prevented from planting or—where they have planted—irrigating, so that thousands of tonnes of wheat will dry out prematurely.

Those 3,000 or so farms employed a total of 350,000 farm workers, each of whom will have been supporting on average five dependants. So this month, as the new settlers established themselves, more than 1.5 million Africans are being expelled after months of intimidation and violence. The resettlement packages that fanners are required to pay them will not last long because of inflation. All those human beings will be entirely without resources, having lost their homes and their own small plots. There will no longer be a farm school, a clinic—often dealing with HIV—a store and, on some farms, an orphanage for HIV orphans when even their extended family are dead. Whole communities are being destroyed. There is no work for them, since many farms are now wholly given over to settlers farming four or five hectares each or to "fat cat" Ministers who are not farming at all.

The Government promised to resettle farm workers; it has resettled about 1 per cent—those who can prove they supported ZANU-PF. Nothing but homelessness and starvation await the others. The plight of many of those originally resettled from the communal areas on the land seized from commercial farmers after a campaign of intimidation and violence by the so-called "Veterans" has not been much better. As in earlier years, little or nothing will be done to support the resettled farmers to prepare the land, and there is no money for agricultural implements or seed and very few tractors. Many have already been arbitrarily returned to the communal areas, having served their purpose with the war veterans in driving the white owners off their farms. That is because the farm has been given to a Minister or senior party figure. That is what Mugabe means by one man, one farm. In one case, 42 families, having built homes and planted fields, were cleared from a farm subsequently allocated to Air Marshal Shiri, notorious for the Matabeleland massacre in the 1980s. Party figures use the people to intimidate a farmer, get the farm de-listed and the settlers are then instantly returned to the communal land.

Land reform has slashed food production by more than 60 per cent and displaced nearly 2 million people, both former farm workers and new settlers, most of whom will now be landless, unemployed and starving. Education is coming to a grinding halt: the children, many of them on one meal every other day, are too weak to attend school. Their teachers are also starving. Thanks to the incidence of HIV, all too many families are now headed by a child and, with the closure of the farm clinics, the battle against HIV becomes even more difficult. A whole new graveyard has appeared on the road leading out of Harare since last year. The poverty is already such that, as an experienced social worker told me, for the first time she is offered nothing when she enters a house. Hitherto, the poorest of the poor, following their tradition of hospitality, would offer a mug of tea, now not even that.

This is only the beginning of the death of a nation. The tobacco crop, which will soon be negligible, used to bring in 40 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Another respectable sum came from the sale of beef from the commercial farms to Libya and the EU countries. Once the cattle ranches were invaded by the "Vets", the settlers briefly placed on land that was fit only for grazing and the farmers driven off, that profitable source of income ended. Before the invasion of the farms, the national herd numbered more than 12.5 million. It is now only 5 million as a result of massive de-stocking following eviction. The land is severely over-grazed now that the communal herd has been brought in, and those cattle suffer from foot and mouth. One farm is already a dust bowl. The damage done to wildlife and the environment is incalculable. The country already faces 60 per cent unemployment, and industry and commerce are losing good workers daily to HIV.

Inflation is at 136 per cent and rising. The country is in straits for foreign currency even to pay harbour dues in Mozambique to release oil and grain deliveries. Sadly, an offer by the UN to set up a hard-cash basket fund from which private companies could borrow to pay for food imports was rejected. It would threaten the government's absolute control over food supply.

According to UNCTAD, foreign direct investment fell from 444 million US dollars in 1998 to 5 million dollars in 2001. Now Mugabe's new target is industry. He has said: If companies are not in favour of a partnership with government the state will be compelled to take over the enterprises and transfer their ownership to the indigenous populace". The confidence of investors must be at an all-time low. Moreover, in Mugabe's desperate negotiation with the Libyans for more oil, he is selling as much of Zimbabwe's industrial—especially mining—tourist and agricultural infrastructure as he can.

Meanwhile, the skilled workers, another important part of Zimbabwe's wealth, are leaving the country in droves. Three hundred social workers have left for the UK. Nurses are being extensively recruited by ourselves, the Australians and the New Zealanders. Who will be left to rebuild the country? I dare to say that there are many, both black and white, who will do so, however dire the circumstances, if the most potent evil of all—the deliberate destruction of the rule of law and human rights—can be reversed. That has done incalculable damage. The government have done their best to attack the judiciary, but so far have been able to do so only in the Supreme Court. The High Court remains both brave and principled and has not hesitated to rule many of the evictions, or cases of interference in elections, illegal.

But the government, although they cannot legally amend the constitution since they lack a two-thirds majority in parliament, are adept at passing new laws to justify illegal acts retrospectively, as in the recent Land Amendment Act. They have produced a new formula for legislation, too. That will give them the right of eviction from any property where the land can be shown to have been in agricultural use at any time in the past 50 years. It will allow them to seize houses with more than five acres of land. Those will of course go to the "Crony Club" and not to the small farmers.

One of the saddest aspects of life in Zimbabwe today is the way in which people have come to accept that the police are no longer there to enforce the law or to protect the innocent. They have been wholly politicised. A magistrate was violently removed from court by war veterans for granting bail to three MDC supporters accused of burning a tractor. The police took no action. People have given up trying to call the police to protect them or their workers from violence and intimidation. The police are now the "three wise monkeys".

Brave men and women who resist lawlessness and violence can expect no protection from the forces of law and order. "Vets" closed a security firm because they discovered that a security guard there was an MDC candidate in the local election. The firm was made to dismiss him.

Economically and financially, Zimbabwe is in a desperate situation—bankrupt and yet still energetically digging itself deeper into the hole it has created. The government are owed 100 billion US dollars by the Democratic Republic of Congo for military and logistical support. Air Zimbabwe is owed 4 million dollars. The taxpayer has lost all that money. The fat cats, the generals and the Ministers have profited hugely in terms of diamonds and mining concessions channelled through OSLEG—the company known as Operation Sovereign Legitimacy—and Oryx. I ask the Minister what is being done to close the Oryx account in London.

Zimbabwe has been excluded by the IMF and chooses this moment to threaten to take over the industrial infrastructure of the country, having effectively ruined its prosperous agricultural sector and condemned millions of its people to starvation, compounded by HIV. Yet, despite everything, many people, both white and black, still want to stay with their country and bring it back to health. They can do so only if the rule of law is restored, together with human rights. I recognise that the Government are doing all they can behind the scenes to work through SADC countries to achieve that and other objectives. However, they should not be deterred from speaking out through fear of appearing colonialist. It is only Mugabe who professes to think that and who uses it as a convenient weapon. The man in the street in Zimbabwe does not think like that. It would mean a great deal to such people if we were to speak out in the EU, at the UN and, indeed, in the Commonwealth, which has been notably silent.

We need to bring the SADC nations to understand, as I am sure we are trying to do daily, that the whole future of the region depends for good will on what happens in Zimbabwe. But if they argue that Zimbabwe is an African problem where only the African countries may properly intervene, then they must be told very clearly that, until they do so, the economic quid pro quo of NePAD will not operate.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on taking the opportunity to raise again the important subject of Zimbabwe. In a fast and constantly changing situation, one, if not two, constant themes run through.

The first is that the government of President Mugabe have portrayed Britain's interest in what is happening in Zimbabwe as a post-colonialist attempt to protect privileged white farmers, and they have portrayed that as the only thing with which we are concerned. That charge is undoubtedly meeting with some resonance in the region, as witnessed by President Sam Nujoma's rather intemperate remarks at the Earth Summit in an attack on the Prime Minister. I say that not as a defence of the Prime Minister—he has broad enough shoulders to take it—but simply to illustrate the constant drip of the charge that we are interested only in the 600 or so white farm families who have been evicted. That is said to be all that we are interested in, and that message is getting home in the region.

I am as concerned with the 16,000 or 18,000—the figure is hard to come by—families of farm workers and farm managers who have been evicted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned. They are suffering destitution but no one is trying to help them. When discussions continue, as they must, on a rational farm acquisition programme, I hope that the money which the United Nations provides will go to help the farm workers to establish themselves and to ensure that they have a decent chance to farm the land.

We have witnessed too many occasions, in this country and elsewhere, when compensation has been paid but the people who do the work have been left out. For example, when a huge restructuring took place of the British trawling industry, all the compensation money went to the ship owners and the seamen received nothing. We certainly do not want to see a repetition of that in Zimbabwe.

The situation is changing. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying so, but I was disappointed in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. In it she repeated everything that is bad in Zimbabwe. That, of course, is true, and to some extent it bears repetition. But no attempt was made to discover how to get out of the situation.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting suspended Zimbabwe for 12 months. The "troika" of Nigeria, South Africa and Australia was charged with trying to sort out the situation. Those countries met after six months and said—disappointingly, I believe—that they would have to wait another six months before they took action and before a final judgment was arrived at. They certainly said that the situation was bad and they certainly expressed great disappointment that the discussions on power sharing have ceased.

The report of the "troika" states that relations between the government and the opposition have never been so bad. Certainly, if one reads the speech made by Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare yesterday, one will see that. He speaks about mass exterminations, but I believe that possibly that goes too far. It does no good to exaggerate the situation. We must look for a way forward.

I have been told by what I regard as a reasonably reliable source that a power-sharing agreement was certainly within grasp, if not agreed in any detail. But I understand that agreement was reached on the general principle. However, the next day, the MDC went to the courts to have the election annulled. That organisation is perfectly entitled to do that, but ZANU-PF has used that as an excuse to say that there will be no more discussions on power sharing.

In a very brief debate we cannot cover all areas. In his speech yesterday, Morgan Tsvangirai called for two things. He called for the intervention of the United Nations under Chapter 7 of the charter, and he called for a transitional executive authority, charged with the responsibility simply to rewrite the constitution. It is perhaps wrong of me to arrive at too hard a judgment, but at first sight that appears to me to be over-exaggerating demands that are not likely to be arrived at.

We have to find some solution because as the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, has said, people in Zimbabwe are starving. The situation is becoming more serious as time goes by. Other noble Lords will mention how the rule of law has totally broken down. We have to encourage the "troika" to act swiftly and to continue to try to reach some kind of an arrangement in which there can be power sharing. I do not like power sharing in principle, but I believe that that is possibly the only way forward.

7.51 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, does not agree with Morgan Tsvangirai in his suggestion that the UN should intervene under Chapter VII of the charter because of the acknowledged threat that exists to the peace of the region arising from this tyranny. Mr Tsvangirai has always called for a re-run of the presidential election, but I do not believe that that will happen. As the noble Lord says, we have to find some way out of the impasse.

Pressure from outside can help, but there are few ways of applying that without harming the people. We need to get at the generals, the politicians, the police and the CIO while trying to save the masses from the consequences of the dictator's criminal conduct. One approach has been to try to impose travels bans on leading figures of the regime and the EU added to the list in July. But there are gaping holes in these sanctions. The Americans have a wider list than we do, and I suggest that we should pool our names with them and invite others to join in. If they are not members of the EU they can still impose travel bans on a bilateral basis.

Switzerland, I believe, normally follows EU policy but makes exceptions for people attending UN meetings in accordance with a treaty that was signed in 1949. There should be a mechanism for cancelling those exceptions and prohibiting people from travelling to international gatherings whether in Geneva or New York.

Recently one prominent crook, Emmerson Mnangegwa, was to travel to Geneva to attend a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, but cancelled at the last moment because of potential embarrassment on his arrival in Switzerland. The IPU council passed a resolution deploring the fact that no reply had been received from Mr Mnangagwa—speaker of the assembly—to their inquiries about seven opposition MPs whose human rights had been violated.

I have mentioned before Mr Fletcher Dulini-Ncube, who is a 62 year-old diabetic and who was deprived of his insulin while in custody so that he almost lost the sight of one eye. Another, Mr David Mpala, was kidnapped and stabbed in the abdomen. His would-be assassins are known, but no investigation has been launched by the police. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, pointed out that that occurs widely. The police do not look into attacks on the MDC.

Mr Peter Hain told me that we would draw the previous Inter-Parliamentary Union report to the attention of our partners in the European Union and the Commonwealth. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether that has been done and whether she will also see that the EU and the Commonwealth have knowledge of the report by the IPU that was published at the end of September.

The travel ban should be extended to all Zanu-PF officials, the war veterans, the people working for the Mugabe stooge media and their spouses. I know that it is difficult to get agreement on that in the General Affairs Council of the European Union, but we should try. We should also tighten up the sanctions on arms and dual-use goods. As the Minister is aware, the regime was able to import armoured Mercedes Benz limousines from Germany for the personal use of the president and his cronies. Amazingly, when the Minister looked into the matter, she told me that the EU common military list, which is used in cases of "full scope" embargoes, does not include armoured limousines. Surely that is a serious gap in the list and we should propose that it be amended.

There is an EU-SADC ministerial conference coming up in Copenhagen in November. When the US had their meeting with SADC recently, they insisted that no representatives from Zimbabwe should be invited. I hope that we shall do the same. The top people in the regime should not be able to evade sanctions by attending multilateral meetings other than by special invitation. We should try to stop up the loopholes.

The Commonwealth has not been effective in bringing about change in Zimbabwe, and the device of the "troika", mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in particular has been shown up as having no teeth. At their recent meeting they acknowledged that the Secretary-General had been unable to establish a dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe, and Mugabe had ignored the "troika's" invitation to Abuja, but all they could do was to express regret once and disappointment twice.

At least the Commonwealth should commission an independent study on the crisis of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, so that it has a better appreciation of the facts on which to base its decisions. Such a study would also be useful to SADC, which decided not to let Mugabe become deputy chairman in 2003, but as a matter of expediency, and not because of his violations of human rights.

At the CHOGM in March 2002, the heads of government reiterated their commitment to democracy, good governance, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, all of which are absent in Zimbabwe. But because of the tendency to concentrate exclusively on the land reform issue, there has been a lamentable failure to address those principles which, ironically, are enshrined in the Harare Declaration. It is time the Commonwealth faced up to the gross breaches of its core values, and to proclaim them before the world.

7.55 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for again giving us the opportunity to debate the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the plight of the 12 million Zimbabweans and Robert Mugabe's continuing tyranny have been overshadowed by the media focus on international terrorism, the imminent war against Iraq and numerous financial scandals.

It is probably true that Mr Mugabe does not cause many sleepless nights in Washington or major European capitals. He presents little threat beyond the borders of his small, land-locked and once thriving country. Certainly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned, the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe is not only destabilising the economy of southern Africa, but also endangering the lives of millions of faceless African men, women and children by exacerbating the spread of famine and AIDS.

Despite some international huffing and puffing, and a batch of sanctions here and there, Mugabe is allowed to carry on persecuting his political opponents, torturing prisoners, rigging elections, kicking farmers off their land, throwing farm labourers and their families into poverty, extending his personal wealth and destroying the very country that he fought so hard to liberate.

What can Her Majesty's Government do about it? I fear the answer is not much. We can continue to shake our heads, thunder disapproval from afar and lobby behind the scenes within the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union. We can keep encouraging the MDC opposition; we can hope that a government of national unity will somehow eventually emerge; and we can assist British nationals living in Zimbabwe who want to come here. But Mugabe still sails on.

We must not be indifferent. Britain has an historical obligation to all the people of Zimbabwe. In my humble view, there are four ways in which Her Majesty's Government can respond to recent events. The first, following the recent "troika" meeting in Abuja—already mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hughes and Lord Avebury—which sadly reached deadlock, is to support the Australian Prime Minister in his endeavours to have Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth. All efforts to promote reconciliation have clearly failed. It is depressing that the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria are not prepared to take a more decisive and affirmative stand. Perhaps they feel that Zimbabwe's expulsion would not help and could effectively take away their opportunity for continued diplomatic pressure on Mugabe.

A second option is to focus aid initiatives, both to relieve famine and to control the spread of HIV, in such a way that the food and medicines are more effectively targeted at the people in need and by-pass Zimbabwean government officials. We need to ensure that tonnes of well-intentioned aid reach those in need and are no longer hijacked and distributed as political favours.

I hesitate to mention the third option because in the current climate it is totally impractical, but, in theory, Britain could push for a strong UN resolution threatening President Mugabe with punitive action if he does not end his rule of terror. We could then have the option of international military force to enforce what is now called a "regime change". I appreciate that military action by Her Majesty's Government could never be an option.

The fourth option appears more realistic. Specifically, that is to put more pressure on the South African Government and SADC to take more decisive action. While our direct influence over Zimbabwe may be greatly diminished in recent years, South Africa continues to wield enormous economic influence over Zimbabwe. Among the many political and economic apron strings between those neighbouring countries, South Africa still supplies bankrupt Zimbabwe with free electricity. The Ian Smith government was effectively brought down when John Vorster—then South Africa's Prime Minister—effectively switched off the lights in Rhodesia. Thirty years on, President Mbeki wields the same capacity to switch off the lights on Robert Mugabe.

I recognise that the South African President finds himself in an invidious position. Whatever anger he might feel about Mugabe's recent conduct, I understand how he does not want his country to be perceived as anti-African, and I appreciate the bonds of liberation solidarity felt by a strong constituency within the ANC. And yet, for President Mbeki, surely there must come a point when enough is enough. When that time comes, and it may not be too far away, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will provide every support to the South African President.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Brennan

My Lords, in the spring of 2001 my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, then a Back-Bencher, led a delegation of lawyers for the International Bar Association to Zimbabwe. They concluded that the rule of law in that country was in grave peril. A year later, sad to say, it has gone.

I turn first to the judiciary. On 13th September last, 65 year-old Judge Blackie, who had previously made a decision adverse to a government minister, was arrested at his home at 4 a.m. He was taken to a communal gaol and refused food, medication and access to a lawyer for more than 30 hours. An application for habeas corpus was dismissed out of hand. He was only able to resume liberty four days later, still facing charges which the rest of the world regard as trumped up. Chief Justice Chaskelson of South Africa robustly criticised that state of affairs. It was designed, he said, to humiliate the independent judge and to intimidate any democratically minded judge. That is the judiciary.

Secondly, I turn to democracy. In the past year, attempts to investigate the validity of the latest presidential election and to ensure the validity of the next local government elections have depended upon access to the electoral rolls, which is declared to be available under law. The chief justice of Zimbabwe, or, if not him, one of the senior judges, produced the bizarre if not grotesque interpretation of the word "copy" when access to the electoral rolls was sought by saying that it meant pen and ink, not electronic access. As a result, there is no means reliably to identify the validity of the electoral process by which Mugabe was returned to power.

Thirdly, I turn to individual liberty. Thomas Spicer is 18 years old. He is white, but one of the mistakes in his life was to associate with black democrats. He was recently arrested and his feet were beaten. His genitalia was connected to an electric circuit, the pain of which was so severe that he suffered severe damage as in extreme pain he mangled his tongue in the inner part of his mouth.

The judiciary has lost its independence; democracy is undermined; and individual liberty is ignored. What worse can there be in a regime? Perhaps Mugabe will show us what there is that is worse than I have described. But the result of that state of affairs has now reached the pitch at which not only the Commonwealth and this Government, who are to be commended for all the efforts they have made, but now black Africa must speak.

As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, has pointed out, the power lies in the hands of President Mbeki. He is probably the most important politician in Africa today. His image of a new economic programme for African development is a new hope. It puts paid to the African syndrome. It requires delicate handling. It makes it difficult for him to condemn people he wants to participate. But the time has come when he must speak and, if necessary, act. Why? Because Param Cumaraswamy, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, reached the conclusion about Zimbabwe today that, The prevailing lawlessness in the Government is not only a menace to the people of Zimbabwe but if allowed unabated could threaten peace, democracy and the rule of law in the African region". Black and white Africans fought for liberty. But, as the famous quotation goes, no man or woman is free until they continue to fight for the freedom of others. Black Africa must speak and must act.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for initiating this debate. I thank her also for having gone to enormous trouble in collating for us so much interesting, if highly depressing, up-to-date information on what is happening in Zimbabwe.

I shall be extremely brief. The question that I shall pose is essentially a rhetorical one. Nevertheless, if the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, happens to have a moment to spare to comment upon it in the course of her reply, I should be extremely grateful.

My question is this: what is the legal and moral difference between forcibly seizing the property of an ethnic minority without compensation and handing it over to selected members of the governing party in Zimbabwe in the year 2002, and doing the same thing to a different ethnic minority in Germany in the mid-1930s? I cannot see much difference, if any.

There is of course a further parallel; namely, the great brutality meted out to dissident members of the governing party's own ethnic groups. A number of noble Lords have already referred to those brave individuals. Let us hope that the similarities end there and that there is no prospect of a repetition—albeit on a much smaller scale—of what happened in Germany subsequent to the mid-1930s. Let us also hope (it goes without saying) that there is no repetition of what happened in Matabeleland a mere 19 or 20 years ago.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for initiating and securing this debate today. I have been wondering what is meant by "the recent developments in Zimbabwe". I take the view that it means what has happened since the presidential election. It seems to me that it is the same but worse.

Several noble Lords have referred to the decline in the role of the judiciary, the problems of land invasions, food and state-sponsored violence. There are two areas that have not yet been mentioned. Only nine days ago there were the local elections in Zimbabwe.

I was struck by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, about a government of national unity. All that I can say is that the members of the Movement for Democratic Change would have to be incredibly saintly people indeed if they were to contemplate that, bearing in mind that during the elections that took place only nine days ago they were unable to nominate or to campaign, they were subjected to intimidation or they were barred. Rallies have been cancelled by the police; candidates have been attacked; and villages that have had the temerity to vote for the MDC in the past have been burnt down. There is also the question of how the Mugabe regime has, since the presidential election, continued to try to diminish the role of the independent media. Only recently, the independent radio station was fire-bombed.

My colleague, my noble friend Lord Hooson, asked me to raise a matter concerning a farm that was mentioned in a letter to him. I accept that there is much more to the problems in Zimbabwe than the farms, but the correspondent writes in relation to someone who was forced to leave that they: helped one of the neighbours pack up and leave their home in 48 hours. However, the army and police arrived before the time limit given, burst into their home, raided the liquor cupboard, and then, drunk, proceeded to evict them at gun point. The police were told there was a high court ruling that their eviction was not lawful, but they told these poor people that they were not interested in high court rulings. When it came for the furniture van to leave, these thugs refused to let it go until they had been given a combine harvester. In that brief paragraph, we have thieving, drunkenness and violence, disobeying even the rather dubious laws and graft.

I was sat at home last week and turned on the television. The only part of the Labour Party conference that I received—I was glad that I received it—was the speech by former President Clinton. It was impressive. To summarise what he said, he extolled the need for and high calling of politics. My question to the Minister is: what are the Government doing to give us comfort and confidence that the high calling of politics is being used to try to influence events in Zimbabwe? What are we doing in the European Union, the United Nations, the South African Development Community and the Commonwealth, where certain action can be taken? Where is the New Partnership for Africa's Development now?

8.13 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on securing this vital debate. Her speech reflected in chilling detail the tragedy that is Zimbabwe today. I wish to express from these Benches the horror and outrage that we all feel. There has been strong, united condemnation from the House, and I hope that the Minister associates herself and the Government with it and does so with some conviction. Her Majesty's Government have come in for a good deal of criticism—and rightly so—for their feeble policy of avoiding confrontation with the regime, which comforts and emboldens Mugabe and his thugs.

How much more blatant, state-sponsored violence and terror must be perpetrated before the Government and the international community take any action? What representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the United Nations about the illegitimate regime in Zimbabwe? Is it not now time for the UN, through the Security Council, guided by its Chapter VII powers, to take decisive action? On that point, I tend to disagree with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to whose views on Zimbabwe I always listen with care. The situation in Zimbabwe is now so serious that decisive action must be taken.

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that EU targeted measures, such as travel bans, against Zimbabwe are enforced by member states? There must be a rigorous implementation of the ban, with loopholes closed, to show that Europe matches words with actions. Are there any plans to extend sanctions to the families of key officials? At every level the regime must feel the pinch of international isolation.

Augustine Chihuri, commissioner of the Zimbabwe police, is responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including executions, the disappearance of citizens suspected of being opponents of Mugabe, and torture. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, described in graphic detail the terrible things that happened to Tom Spicer. Those crimes are punishable under international law. Chihuri is also Interpol's vice-president for Africa and makes frequent overseas jaunts. Apparently, Britain did not bother to protest when he flouted the ban to travel to Lyon in August. French authorities say that they gave the Foreign Office notice of his presence, but that Whitehall raised no objection. Why? He will now attend an Interpol conference in January about, of all things, corruption in Hong Kong. He will undoubtedly use his position to prevent discussion of one of the most serious examples of serious police corruption: the corruption over which he personally presides in Zimbabwe.

Can the Minister confirm that her department will communicate to the Home Office, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and all chief constables an expectation that our representatives on Interpol will do all that they can to work against Chihuri's involvement in that conference?

In the light of the human rights abuses and the lawless and ruthless victimisation of any form of opposition to the regime, work has begun on setting up a special court for Zimbabwe, along the lines of those set up in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Will Her Majesty's Government support such initiatives? The noble Lords, Lord St. John and Lord Brennan, mentioned South Africa's increasingly untenable position on Zimbabwe. I hope that it will not take the rand falling to 20 to the pound to galvanise the South African Government. Can the Minister elaborate on the "constructive engagement" that her Government are apparently having with the South African Government on Zimbabwe?

Finally, what practical steps are the Government taking to support British passport holders fleeing the dangerous conditions in Zimbabwe to seek refuge in the United Kingdom?

8.18 p.m.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for opening this debate. Her concern about the situation in Zimbabwe is well known in this House. The contributions of all speakers today demonstrate the deep concern felt in this House about the situation in Zimbabwe and the collective frustration felt by all those who consider themselves friends of that country and its people.

The Government's policy on Zimbabwe is straightforward. We want a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. We will support Zimbabwe's people and their democratic aspirations while aiming for the maximum isolation of the Mugabe regime. As I have said many times in this House, Britain's ability to influence events on the ground in an independent country such as Zimbabwe is limited.

I have listened carefully to the comments, criticisms and suggestions that have been made during our numerous debates and discussions. It is significant that proposals that have been made mirror action that the Government are already taking. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who described the Government's policy as feeble. The Members sitting on the Benches opposite have made no concrete suggestions about the way forward. Perhaps, the paucity of ideas reflects the policies that were followed by previous Conservative Governments during the dark days of UDI in what was then Rhodesia.

We have worked to achieve a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe has been destabilised and impoverished by bad governance in recent years. Investor confidence has collapsed, and donor assistance has dried up. The social and economic indicators are depressing: inflation is at 135 per cent; unemployment is over 70 per cent; and currency trading 10 times below its official rate. The country is poorer now than it was at independence. That is something that concerns us all.

Zimbabwe is no longer a truly democratic country. It retains the outward forms, but the Government share the view of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the regime in Harare lacks democratic legitimacy and has lost the moral authority to govern. The international community has responded. The European Union and the United States have imposed targeted sanctions against the regime. Those sanctions have had an impact. Assets have been seized, and the travel ban impedes the regime's ability to operate. The Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe from its councils. The more the regime ignores world opinion, the more isolated it will become.

We keep the sanctions under review. Since the travel ban was introduced, 59 more names have been added, including seven that were added on 13th September. However, they are European Union sanctions, and we must work with our EU partners and colleagues in reviewing them.

Questions were asked about the travel ban. I repeat what I have said in the House several times. Only where international treaties legally oblige EU member states to let banned individuals in has that been done. Countries outside the European Union, including the United States, Switzerland and New Zealand, have imposed a travel ban. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, asked a specific question about Oryx with respect to assets. I can assure her that we will continue to examine ways in which we may seize the assets of those who are on the banned list. We are constantly engaged in that.

I mentioned the isolation of the Mugabe regime. Zimbabwe is beginning to hear the same message from within the region as well. At the Southern African Development Community summit in Luanda last week, it was expected that Mugabe would be chosen as the new SADC vice-chairman. It is automatic that, after a year, the vice-chairman becomes the chairman. In the event, the heads of state chose President Mkapa of Tanzania instead.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside and with the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that ordinary Zimbabweans deserve the support of the international community. Between January and 31st August this year, there were 58 politically motivated deaths in Zimbabwe, including those of 37 MDC members and one white commercial farmer. Over the same period, there were 1,053 recorded cases of torture. The UK Government, with the European Union and the United States, are the biggest providers of emergency food aid to the seven million Zimbabweans now suffering as a result of the region's food crisis. That crisis is essentially man-made. It is more the result of bad policy than of bad weather.

The noble Baroness is right about the impact of the fast-track land reforms. It will take years to reverse the damage done to the Zimbabwean economy, now the worst- performing in Africa. It has shrunk by 23 per cent in the past two years and is likely to contract by a further 10 per cent next year. The crisis has also damaged the economies of neighbouring countries. International investment and tourism have declined. Neighbouring countries have suffered damage to local production and customs revenues from the influx of cheap Zimbabwean goods. There are mounting bad Zimbabwean debts and an increase in largely unskilled Zimbabwean migrants, when their own unemployment levels are already high.

The United Kingdom's contribution to attempts to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe stands at £32 million. It is ironic that, if this country had taken on board the concerns of the international community about land reform, that money could have been better spent. I assure the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, that our aid goes through international organisations, such as the United Nations World Food Programme, and NGOs. The level of our support will be determined on the basis of need, not political affiliation.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that Zimbabwe's future prosperity depends on the re-establishment of the rule of law and an end to political violence. There may still be independent judges in Zimbabwe, but, as my noble friend Lord Brennan said, there is no independent judiciary and no rule of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the issue of ethnicity and the treatment, in particular, of white farmers. State-sponsored political violence and harassment has destroyed the country's democratic structures. Over 200 people—mostly black opposition supporters—have been murdered since 2000. Thousands have been tortured, raped, harassed and beaten. The independent media have been systematically targeted. There is a serious risk that Zimbabwe's economic, social and political institutions may soon move beyond the point of no return. We must be clear: prosperity and stability will not return until the rule of law is restored. The situation has an impact on the life of all Zimbabweans. It is not about ethnicity: that is a smokescreen.

There is also the important issue of land reform. The United Kingdom Government accept, and have always accepted, that land reform is essential to Zimbabwe's development. We have contributed to it. However, we have never accepted that the solution is to hand over large sums of money to the Zimbabwe Government on an unconditional and unsustainable basis. We did not agree that at Lancaster House in 1980, and we will not do so in future. We have said that we will support a land reform process that is transparent, fair and legal, as part of a wider strategy to reduce poverty. I assure my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside that we hope to resume support for long-term development programmes in Zimbabwe. However, that will be possible only when the needs and concerns of all stakeholders are fully addressed. The programmes must be based on the rule of law and on sensible economics and are carried out by democratic governments. None of those conditions is in place.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked several specific questions. We have been proactive in ensuring that the Inter-Parliamentary Union report on Zimbabwe has been brought to the attention of our EU partners. I assure the House that the report was on the agenda at last week's meeting of the General Affairs Council and at the previous meeting in July.

With respect to the EU-SADC meeting, we oppose the waiving of the travel bans so that ZANU-PF members can visit the EU. Our EU partners know our views. The issue is being discussed by senior officials. SADC has offered a meeting in Maputo as an alternative to Copenhagen, and most EU partners support that.

As far as I am aware, the armoured Mercedes Benz vehicles are not dual use vehicles. That is to say that they do not have a military use, which is why they were not on the list.

The future of Zimbabwe must be decided by the will of the people, freely expressed. Zimbabwe's people must be allowed a free and fair election, in the presence of impartial international observers. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, mentioned the recent local elections. The rural district council elections on September 28th and 29th demonstrated the lack of democratic accountability in Zimbabwe. The election was a complete sham. Through a process of intimidation and bureaucratic obstruction, ZANU PF prevented the opposition MDC from fielding candidates in half the wards. During the campaign MDC supporters were killed. Others were intimidated. ZANU PF used food to bribe voters.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that the Government should not be deterred from speaking out. We have not been. We have made our views known to our partners in SADC, the European Union and the Commonwealth countries and we shall continue to do so. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Hughes that we need to find a solution. I recognise the important role that South Africa can play—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. We are in constant discussion with our South African partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, raised NePAD. The G8 has discussed this issue in conjunction with our NePAD partners. We are all aware that Zimbabwe casts a shadow over the NePAD process. We do not want to hold an entire continent hostage to the behaviour of one country, but we will have to continue our discussions within the context of NePAD.

The Government believe that the only solution to the impasse in Zimbabwe is for ZANU PF to resume the Nigerian/South African brokered inter-party dialogue: to demonstrate a readiness to work for genuine national reconciliation; to stop violence and intimidation; and to co-operate fully with the UN on humanitarian aid. If these are genuinely implemented, Zimbabwe might—I emphasise that word—weather its humanitarian crisis. If not, Zimbabwe faces irreversible economic decline and suffering on a huge scale. That is something we do not want to see perpetuated, but the reality is that if this action is not taken, that will be the result.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.33 to 8.35 p.m.]