HL Deb 14 January 2004 vol 657 cc553-6

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further steps they propose to take in connection with the situation in Zimbabwe.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, our aim remains a return to democratic governance, prosperity and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We are working closely with the international community to sustain pressure on Mugabe's regime by maintaining dialogue with countries in southern Africa, the Commonwealth in general, our EU partners and the United States. The immediate priority is to ensure that 5.5 million economically vulnerable Zimbabweans do not starve between now and the next harvest in April. The Department for International Development will provide almost £20 million for emergency feeding programmes this year.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, while I agree with the objectives stated by the noble Baroness, would it not be helpful if more pressure were applied to the Mugabe regime? At the European Council on 26 January, will the Government propose that sanctions should he extended to the spouses and families of Mr Mugabe's cronies and to the business people who bankroll him? As a separate matter, will they also propose that Mr Mugabe he stripped of his knighthood, as was the case with President Ceaucescu?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord says that we should exert more pressure. I can tell him that we will be exerting a great deal of pressure at the EU Foreign Ministers' meeting later this month. We will do our best to persuade them to apply the maximum sanctions that we can negotiate within the EU. The noble Lord will remember that that matter did not exactly have a smooth passage last year, but we shall certainly return to the fray this year.

As for Mr Mugabe's knighthood, I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord's point. However, we have done our best to avoid making the argument a personal one between Mr Mugabe and the United Kingdom. Mr Mugabe never misses an opportunity to point to the actions of the United Kingdom as being those of a colonial power directed against him. We want to avoid that, although I am bound to tell the noble Lord that, I too, find it difficult to take that Mr Mugabe continues to hold a knighthood.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, can the Minister give an update on the pledges given by President Thabo Mbeki to our Prime Minister last year that there would be a government of national unity in place by June this year? Furthermore, given the appalling state of businesses and banks in Zimbabwe, surely now is the time for international businesses with interests in that country to take a more assertive political stance against President Mugabe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, on the position announced by Mr Mbeki last year, he was in Harare shortly before Christmas discussing the position with both Mr Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai and said that he hoped that the discussions between the two parties in Zimbabwe would continue. To that, I would say, "We shall see". So far, the augurs have not been good.

As for further pressure from international bodies, again, I agree that if we are able to exert more pressure, it is best done through such international organisations and banks. It is our business to do everything that we can to persuade the movers in the international community, whether political or commercial, closely to consider what is happening in Zimbabwe and to take some good decisions about investment.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the HIV/AIDS situation in Zimbabwe? There have been terrible problems with the regime's attitude towards the disease. Has that attitude changed and what are the British Government doing to enable people to get help with H IV/AIDS in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the HIV/AIDS situation is indeed grave. Almost one-quarter of all Zimbabweans aged between 15 and 49 are infected with HIV/AIDS. That is a truly devastating figure. We cannot give any accurate information about the availability of drugs to deal with the problem. The fact that 3, 200 people are dying every single week from HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe is a truly appalling statistic.

We know that some forms of aid have been used by the Mugabe regime to exert pressure for political purposes. We will continue to monitor the situation as best we can in the current circumstances, but if there is any evidence of the anti-viral drugs used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS being withheld from certain parts of the Zimbabwean community, the Government—in particular, my colleagues in the DfID—would be grateful to hear it.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that despite the egregious violations of human rights in Zimbabwe over many years, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has been unable to send a single special representative to monitor the situation there? Does she not think that measures should be taken to collect all the information available—perhaps by the Commonwealth Human Rights Unit—and lay the facts before the commission when it meets in Geneva in April?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that we should do everything that we can to get together information on the true position in Zimbabwe and to bring it to the attention of countries around the world. The noble Lord will know that it is not straightforward to get information on Zimbabwe. Not to put too fine a point upon it, it has not been terribly easy to persuade some of our partners in the United Nations that the appropriate measures should be taken against Zimbabwe in the form of condemnatory resolutions. As I said in my previous answers, I agree that we should consider very closely anything that can be done to internationalise the position so that we are not put in the position that Mr Mugabe desperately wants us to be in—that of being the lead nation, making this a black-versus-white argument, which it emphatically is not.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, mentioned the financial crisis that has overtaken Zimbabwe. Now that inflation is between 600 and 1, 000 per cent, interest rates are 450 per cent, a number of banks cannot even honour cheques issued, and the World Food Programme has announced that it will have to halve its supply of food aid because Zimbabwe gave it misleading information at the start, what are the next steps that we will take, not merely against Zimbabwe, but to rescue the people of Zimbabwe? As Colin Powell said last summer, we could do with vigorous international action. Could that include a constructive UN resolution now, proposed by the countries that really want to see Zimbabweans saved from the murderous regime under which they live?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right; the economic situation in Zimbabwe is absolutely desperate. I asked for the inflation figure; I understand that the most recent figure is some 620 per cent. Unemployment stands at between 70 and 80 per cent—in the country that was the breadbasket of southern Africa. Mr Mugabe has inflicted on his country a truly appalling position.

As regards what can be done, I said in my Answer that the United Kingdom is providing more money for emergency feeding programmes this year. In the past three years we have provided more than £60 million. The noble Lord asks what can be done next. We look to the international community in the way that I indicated; we look to pressure to be brought through Commonwealth countries that possibly have more influence than we do on the Zimbabweans. I look, for example, to the remarks of Archbishop Tutu of South Africa and to the United States. We look to exert pressure however we can through the EU, for which there will be another opportunity at the end of this month. We also look to individuals in taking their decisions about how they deal with the regime; but we say to them: please make sure that the action taken hurts the regime and not the individual Zimbabwean.

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