HL Deb 15 July 2003 vol 651 cc763-6

2.58 p.m.

Viscount Goschenasked Her Majesty's Government:

What additional support they would be able to give to Zimbabwe, in the event of a return to democracy in that country.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we stand ready to help any democratically elected government in Zimbabwe to rebuild its economy and reverse its dependence on food aid and, along with our EU partners, the wider international community and the international financial institutions, we would play our full part in the huge task of helping Zimbabwe to return to former levels of prosperity.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Does she agree that it is now time to take that argument forward to consider what will happen after Mugabe goes, as he undoubtedly will, and, I hope, soon? Is there not a lot of value to be had in sending a strong message of hope to the people of Zimbabwe that western countries are standing by to help rebuild that country when democracy returns?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the noble Viscount is absolutely right. What the people of Zimbabwe need now is the reassurance that, when the nightmare that they are living through is over, the international community will still be there. Indeed, it will be redoubling its efforts to help them. We stand ready, as I said, to work with any new administration in Zimbabwe who are democratically elected by the Zimbabwean people—in a process that is transparent, democratic, free and fair—and committed to respecting human rights.

Contingency planning is starting, to enable the international community to respond quickly and positively to the return of democratic government in Zimbabwe. However, it would be premature to speculate on the exact detail of UK support.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, following the meeting that the Prime Minister had with President Thabo Mbeki the day before yesterday, negotiations are progressing well towards the creation of a government of national unity in Zimbabwe, despite the recent statements made by Morgan Tsvangirai? Can she confirm that plans are afoot to amend the Zimbabwe constitution to reintroduce a prime minister and retain Robert Mugabe as an interim president, more in a ceremonial capacity, until a formalised democratic government can be introduced?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, President Mbeki made it clear that he was continuing his efforts to encourage inter-party dialogue between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. We welcome that and President Mbeki's confirmation to President Bush last week that it was necessary to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic challenges as quickly as possible. The noble Lord, who is a keen Zimbabwe-watcher, will know that the Prime Minister and Mr Mbeki had intensive talks on Zimbabwe yesterday.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the Minister talked about the size of the task of reconstruction. I agree with her. Would it not be a good idea to ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to undertake a pre-planning study to identify the nature and the scale of the resources that will be required and to solicit voluntary contributions from member states of the UN, so that the people of Zimbabwe can see what is being prepared for the day on which they return to democratic government?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree that we would want the UN to strengthen its position on Zimbabwe. The noble Lord will know the problems that the European Union, in particular, has faced in trying to bring resolutions to the UN on the issue. However, given the possible political changes in Zimbabwe and the uncertainty about the pace and character of the transition and about the exact needs of Zimbabwe, we must talk in general terms about the early stages of contingency planning with the World Bank, the IMF, the United States and the European Union.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the immediate need is for Mr Mbeki to get over to Mr Mugabe the message that he must stop harassing, persecuting and torturing the political opposition? Will she undertake to encourage our Foreign Secretary to get that message, in turn, to Mr Mbeki? Until that happens, even talk of talks will not amount to much.

While we are talking about Zimbabwe, can the Minister say what is happening to all the former Southern Rhodesia and Zimbabwe pensioners living in this country whose pensions have been cut off? They have not had a penny piece since February. What will the Government do about that?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to push for the strongest representations about Zimbabwe from the Government. That has been the case all the way along. Only yesterday, we welcomed President Mbeki's confirmation that it was necessary to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic challenges as quickly as possible. As I said, the Prime Minister has been in discussions with Mr Mbeki this week on the issue.

The Lancaster House agreement declared that the Zimbabwean constitution made provision for the payment of pensions to civil servants, even those no longer resident in Zimbabwe. Responsibility for the payment of those pensions rests firmly with the Zimbabwean Government and always has. The noble Lord will know that payment of the pensions is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. There are 153 pensioners resident in Zimbabwe for whom we have special responsibility. We are on the record as saying that we have responsibility for the pensions of those who were recruited by or on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to serve in our former dependent territories on expatriate terms.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, in view of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, about the possibility of a government of national unity at some point, will the Minister comment on the fact that, only last week, the mayor of Harare, who had returned voluntarily, was arrested at the airport and imprisoned? He was released briefly on bail and has subsequently been stripped of his mayoralty, his car, his house, his livelihood and his security guards. He was—possibly— a rightly elected mayor. Is a government of national unity at all probable, if such excesses and atrocities go on?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we condemn outright the treatment of the Harare mayor. As the noble Baroness will know, he was on an FCO-sponsored visit to the UK from 29th June to 3rd July and was arrested on his return. The build-up of human rights resources across the board in Zimbabwe encourages the international community to look robustly at the way in which it can help a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.

Lord Acton

My Lords, we have spoken of the economic challenges. Is my noble friend aware that tobacco has played what is possibly the crucial part in earning foreign exchange for Zimbabwe? In view of the international decline in the tobacco market, will Britain and its partners pay attention to finding cash crops that a new-born Zimbabwe can develop to earn foreign exchange?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend a detailed answer on the issue of tobacco, but I will say that any rescue plans for a post-Mugabe regime will involve the taking of macro-economic measures by the international community, as well as poverty reduction measures.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am afraid that we are substantially over time.