HL Deb 15 October 2003 vol 653 cc931-4

2.36 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to ensure that food relief to the people of Zimbabwe will not come under the control of ZANU-PF.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the UN, EU and other donors have made it clear to the Zimbabwean Government that they will not tolerate political interference in the distribution of food aid. The World Food Programme and others distributing international food aid all have monitoring systems in place. Humanitarian support is entering its third year and we remain confident that the systems are in place to ensure that no humanitarian relief provided by the UK and our donor partners can come under ZANU-PF control.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but I confess that I am not entirely reassured. The United Nations estimates that by January of next year, as many as 5.5 million Zimbabweans will be dependent on food distribution. That gives Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF the opportunity quite literally to hold the nation by its throat. What assurance can the Minister really give us that, compared with the ineffectiveness of sanctions and actions taken to date, real pressure will be brought to bear by Her Majesty's Government and by the international community on Mr Mugabe and his regime?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there are two parts to the question of the noble Lord. With regard to the second half of the question, which is about wider political pressure, the noble Lord will know that we continue to work within the EU and the Commonwealth and with our partners in the UN and southern Africa to try to bring a resolution to the situation. Some discussions have been ongoing between the Zimbabwean and the South African Governments. I know that there is a great deal of impatience in this House that nothing appears to have been delivered, but we are continuing to make strenuous efforts.

In response to the noble Lord's first point, perhaps I may try to reassure him that we do have monitoring mechanisms in place. It took the World Food Programme a long time to sign an MoU with the Government of Zimbabwe because they were seeking to take control of food aid and we will continue to be very robust on that.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in July the United Nations launched an appeal for 530 million dollars of humanitarian aid for six southern African countries, much of it for 4 million hungry Zimbabweans? Is she aware that the results so far have been most disappointing and that only about one-fifth of the money has been forthcoming? While I appreciate that Britain has been very generous in feeding Zimbabweans, will her Majesty's Government do their very best to encourage other friendly governments to give money to that UN appeal, thereby averting yet further Zimbabwean tragedy?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. There is a gap in food aid resources. The WFP pipeline is only 31 per cent resourced. We will be making an additional £5 million available to the WFP next week. Regarding my noble friend's point about putting pressure on other donors, we will continue to work with other donors, but the fact that the Government of Zimbabwe tried to put in place mechanisms that would see them control food aid has meant that other donors are somewhat sceptical.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. There is a great deal of impatience, both in this House and outside. Would she agree that no news from Zimbabwe is not good news and that we are still seeing the unending violations of human rights and the crushing of liberties? The economy is in tatters and people are now living on roots and berries. It has been called "the land of the empty plate", which is what it has become.

Does she recall the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report from another place in May? It made a string of positive recommendations—there were eight of them—which sought direct government action of a practical kind now, including the production of a dossier on human rights abuses and a wider examination of the whole food relief distribution system. When will the Government implement any of those eight proposals and possibly relieve some of understandable impatience that we all feel that not enough is being done?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is quite right. The situation has not improved and, in some cases, it is getting worse. We have seen the closure of the Daily News and I learnt this morning that the inflation rate has now reached some 450 per cent. The country has run out not just of foreign currency, but also of local currency. One can imagine what effect that is having on the population in Zimbabwe.

On the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, I gave evidence to that committee myself. I remember the recommendation of a dossier on human rights abuses. I pointed out to the committee that a number of NGOs and other organisations are compiling that information. We should be cautious about who owns that information. The noble Lord will know that the British Government's relationship to the Zimbabwean Government is such that what we say is very often not taken seriously, but the underlying point of making sure that that information is publicly available is absolutely right.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I welcome the contribution from the United Kingdom, announced by the noble Baroness, and the 6 million dollars granted by SIDA, the Swedish agency. Will she agree that the 70 per cent shortfall in the World Food Programme's appeal, which she mentioned, is due to donors' fears that despite the memorandum of understanding, when it comes to the crunch ZANU-PF will find means of diverting aid from the people who need it most? How can assurances be given to donors, other than from the MoU?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that that is exactly the concern of donors. They are also concerned that as there has been no shift in the political situation, the position will not improve. The monitoring mechanisms that the World Food Programme and donors have put in place are robust and we need to persuade our donor colleagues of that.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, is it not the case that while the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates daily, it is important that Members in this House and people elsewhere make it clear that we abhor entirely what ZANU-PF and President Mugabe are doing? Will she undertake to continue the pressure, advice and dialogue especially with President Mbeki of South Africa who still believes that the softly, softly approach will work? Will she tell him that many of us believe that it will not work and that the southern African countries need to be much stronger in their dealings with Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we need to put at the centre of our concerns relieving the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and that has always driven our policy. With respect to our work with our southern African partners, there have been disagreements about tactics and the best way of taking the position forward. But, ultimately, Zimbabwe's neighbours will make a real difference. I have been assured on many occasions that the conversations that they have in private are most robust.