HL Deb 10 October 2002 vol 639 cc402-5

3.11 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their present policy towards Zimbabwe.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we want to see a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. There is a strong international consensus behind that. We shall continue to press for regional efforts to restore good governance and the rule of law to Zimbabwe. Our condemnation of the Mugabe regime's policies will remain unequivocal but we shall continue to help those Zimbabweans suffering as a result of economic mismanagement and contempt for the rule of law.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, am I right in believing that member countries of NePAD and the new African Union claim that good governance, human rights and the rule of law in African countries are matters for African countries alone but appear to be taking no steps to deal with one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the world, that in Zimbabwe? If that situation continues, is there not a danger that NePAD and the African Union will lose all credibility? Will Her Majesty's Government propose to the G8 countries that they suspend aid to African countries until they have taken steps to deal with the restoration of human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Central to the principles within NePAD, and within the African Union, are principles associated with human rights and good governance. They are core principles for the NePAD initiatives and for the African Union. I do not think that either organisation stresses that these are for African countries alone. What is important is for there to be a stress within the African Union and within NePAD for African leadership and a key African role in sorting out governance problems on the continent.

We are extremely concerned, as the noble Lord knows, about the situation in Zimbabwe. The noble Lord is quite right. There is a significant humanitarian crisis. As many as 7 million people—more than half the population—will need food aid by the end of the year. So it is important that we continue to work with our African partners and ensure that they understand the magnitude of this crisis.

At the recent SADC meeting Mugabe was scheduled to become the vice-chairman. That did not happen. I was pleased that the President of Tanzania was elected instead.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, on 22nd July the Minister admitted in this House that only £76,000 worth of assets of Mr Mugabe and his colleagues had been frozen by that stage. Can the Minister tell us whether there has been any progress on that paltry sum? Given the ineffectiveness of that sum as any kind of deterrent to Mr Mugabe, can the Minister say how she and Her Majesty's Government react to the call of the leader of the movement for freedom in Zimbabwe that the moment has now come for United Nations' intervention to be actively considered?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there has been a slight increase in that sum. It now rests at some £120,000. As to the issue about the asset freeze, we are doing all we can to identify where those assets are. Noble Lords will know that if individuals and institutions want to move money around and to hide that money it is very difficult to find it. But we shall continue to put pressure where we can.

I think that the noble Lord must have been talking about the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai. It is important for us to recognise and remember that the UN is already involved. The UN is trying to cope, through the World Food Programme, with the significant humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations Development Programmes (UNDPs) has been involved in the land reform process. It ruled earlier this year that that process was unsustainable.

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, has made some very strong comments already about the situation in Zimbabwe. We shall continue to engage with the UN on these matters.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, following the Minister's first Answer to my noble friend Lord Astor on the first Question, and in the light of the Prime Minister's comments last year that he would make Africa a major personal priority and a priority for the Labour Party, can the Minister tell us why he did not raise the issue of Zimbabwe in Johannesburg?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I presume the noble Baroness refers to my right honourable friend's statement to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. In Johannesburg my right honourable friend had a number of meetings in the margins of the summit meeting at which he discussed a range of issues affecting Africa.

We attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development because we had important things to say about sustainable development and about development and environmental issues.. This was a major UN conference which brought together what had been discussed in Doha, Monterrey and Kananaskis. For us to focus on one country when we had significant things to say about the sustainable development agenda would have reflected very poorly on this country.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister advise the House how we can expect to solve the economic crisis facing Zimbabwe when the very person who is causing it is still in power?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Zimbabwe is not a colony of the United Kingdom. It is a sovereign territory. What the Mugabe regime is doing is ruining a country, ruining an economy and paying absolutely no heed to what is happening to its own people. We and the United States are having to put money in and feed people when their government are paying no regard to them. So it is absolutely critical that the Mugabe regime wakes up and recognises what it is doing to its own country and that those countries around Zimbabwe, which are suffering from that economic mismanagement, also play a role.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister say what the Government are doing about Mugabe's successful use of the old colonial bogey? It is receiving a certain amount of support in neighbouring African countries. Are we putting the facts firmly before these countries or are we leaving it for them to assume that Mugabe is right?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we put the facts before those countries at every conceivable opportunity. I talk about Zimbabwe with my opposite numbers in African countries just about every time I meet them—be that here in the United Kingdom or when I visit their countries. I was recently in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly and had several meetings with African Foreign Ministers. I have been on talk radio in South Africa discussing the Government's policy on land reform. We leave no stone unturned. However, it is important that we remember that there is a colonial legacy, and a great deal of emotion and resentment connected with it, that is difficult for us to overcome.

Lord Elton

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Mugabe regime is preventing the distribution of food aid in areas populated by those who do not support him politically? Is that method of using starvation for political ends something best dealt with by the United Nations, in view of what the Minister said about colonialism? What steps are we taking toward such intervention?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there are two types of food relief in Zimbabwe. The first is purchased and distributed through ZANU-PF; we and the international community have no control over that. There are credible reports that it is being used as a political weapon. In the recent district council elections, it was reported that people who voted for ZANU-PF were given food.

There is also the international relief effort, to which we have contributed £32 million, which is separate from that. It is supplied directly to the needy on the ground by UN agencies such as the World Food Programme or non-governmental organisations. It does not go through ZANU-PF or state structures. We investigate any allegation that our aid is being diverted. James Morris, head of the World Food Programme, said in July that the UN would be out of the country in a second if it encountered difficulties in delivering food to starving people.