HL Deb 09 March 2005 vol 670 cc737-74

3.6 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

rose to call attention to the situation in Zimbabwe; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, only four years ago, Zimbabwe was one of the most successful countries with the most sophisticated professional class in Africa. Adult literacy was 90 per cent and youth literacy 98 per cent. It also had large numbers of professional people, black and white—doctors, academics, teachers and lawyers. It was a net exporter of food—the breadbasket of southern Africa. Today, it imports grain from Zambia, grown by former Zimbabwean farmers. Its tobacco and beef once brought in 40 per cent of foreign currency. Now there has been a 90 per cent decline in, for example, the production of corn. GDP is down by 40 per cent per capita. Inflation is at over 300 per cent and still rising. Banks are failing and corruption is rampant in the leadership. According to the IMF, the economy has shrunk by 30 per cent in the five years to 2004. There is more than 70 per cent unemployment, and the UNDP estimates that 41 per cent of the 11 million population will starve unless food aid comes to fill the gap in the harvest.

Zimbabwe once exported 20 per cent of the world's tobacco. Now, that figure is 4 per cent and falling. Almost all the 4,000 commercial farms which produced this revenue and invested in production provided schools, clinics, housing and land for their workers and sometimes homes for HIV-stricken children. These farms have been seized without compensation and in the most brutal fashion. The 310,000 farm workers were driven off the land and are disenfranchised, displaced, homeless and starving. The NGOs trying to help them were driven off.

So, we have a once-prosperous country whose economy has been destroyed by its own government and whose highly skilled professional and commercial classes, white and black, have largely been driven abroad. The most vulnerable people—the rural African population—have been dumped on former commercial farms, without seed, tools or land title, to attempt subsistence farming before being, in many cases, driven back to the reserves to allow the new "thievocracy" to move in as landed gentry. Forty per cent of these farms were, incidentally, bought from the present government after 1980—many as scrubland, which the government did not want in any case. Amazingly, most of the people of Zimbabwe, white and black, have patience, dignity, good humour and mutual respect, without which they could not have survived.

I have described only the economic situation. Far worse is the remorseless destruction of the rule of law and of basic human rights practised by the ZANU-PF Government. Every one of the 57 opposition MPs has, at one time or another, been beaten, threatened and terrorised, and no action has been taken against the aggressors—Mugabe's war veterans and youth militia. They rape, pillage and murder while the police stand by, and they have just been given a major pay award, to encourage them to intimidate and disrupt any political opposition in the elections. There is nothing to choose between them and the Janjaweed.

What of Zimbabwe and the outside world? The situation there is as much a human disaster as Darfur. Children are being routinely raped and starved in both countries. The disaster is as great as in the tsunami countries, but the world has done nothing. The government's flagrant disregard of the human rights there is as bad as the Serb treatment of Kosovo or the events in the Great Lakes. The differences are, first, that there are no journalists left in Zimbabwe to tell the world what is going on, whether on TV, radio or the press, and no media coverage other than that of the government. Next, because the African Union countries, and in particular Thabo Mbeki, have hitherto been more concerned with supporting and defending Mugabe, the liberation leader, than with admitting what he is doing to his own people, the AU has prevented any discussion of Zimbabwe in the UN.

What of the UN? It has applied no sanctions. Mugabe was able to ensure, through the solid bloc vote of the African Union, that Zimbabwe was not even discussed at several meetings of the UN Commission for Human Rights—and of course he goes regularly to New York. Thanks to the AU, neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly ever discuss Zimbabwe, yet UNCHR is represented, though wholly inactive, in Zimbabwe. Until recently, the UN World Food Programme was feeding Mugabe's starving people, and will no doubt be required to do so again when Mugabe so wishes. The IMF and the World Bank will no longer lend to an economy in freefall.

The SADC countries, which best know from the refugees flooding into their countries how dire the situation is, are intimidated into silence so that Mr Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" can be left to bring about change. Incidentally, Mozambique, Zambia and Nigeria have enthusiastically encouraged Zimbabwe farmers to come to their countries. They recognise them as valuable Africans, committed to Africa, wherever the rule of law exists.

What is to be done to help? The country still has well qualified, able people, who only ask for the restoration of the rule of law, free elections, a just settlement, and the chance to make the country work again: provided they are fairly treated. Those who have left will return, and it is vital that we should enable the diaspora to retain their skills. Those who have bravely stayed, black and white, would rebuild the economy, provided they receive compensation for the seizure of land—seizures widely regarded by the country's own courts as illegal—and investment from the IMF and World Bank to enable the economy to recover. There is still a remarkable potential in terms of skill and committed people, though our own treatment of asylum seekers is deskilling people every day. We shall have much to answer for if we continue both to return asylum seekers against their will, despite the repeated warnings of the UNHCR in this country, to violence and sometimes torture, and to prevent skilled doctors, teachers—I hope Mr Trevor Phillips is listening—and others with professional skills from working.

Her Majesty's Government have so far allowed themselves to be routed and manipulated by Mugabe and Mbeki: both forbidding them to do anything, on the grounds that they are a former colonial power. In the long years when we fought against UDI, however, and in the settlement over land at Lancaster House, we recognised our duty to do what we could to help Zimbabwe to achieve the same independence as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and the other African countries where there was once a British presence. I have not noticed the Prime Minister having any quarrel about benevolent intervention in Darfur and in southern Sudan; yet we held the mandate there. Clare Short, in a fateful and ill judged letter, wrote to Mugabe that there would he no more money for land, since the incoming Labour Government were, without links to former colonial interests". We can and should operate with and through the UN and the EU, and still more with the IMF and the World Bank.

The Government have been persuaded by Mr Mbeki, by SADC and by the AU that any British intervention would be counterproductive, even though our concern is for Zimbabwe. So what are HMG doing through international organisations? The UN is represented in Zimbabwe by the UNHCR. It has said nothing in the UN about the widespread violence, rape and torture. The UNDP is there, and in 2004 was said to have been negotiating for seven months, with a view to supporting and financing the general election process—voter education, electoral rolls, et cetera—and the UNDP representative said, "We want to contribute to the full, credible process. The elections should meet international standards". Nothing has happened; there are no UN observers, and 25 per cent of the electorate who fled overseas are denied the right to vote.

The UN World Food Programme was to provide food and to monitor the distribution. Have HMG asked why the UN does not even discuss Zimbabwe, let alone act to protect the weak, as it is doing in Darfur and the Congo? Yet the UN is represented by a number of bodies there who could call for action. UNICEF has a representative in Harare and says that children as young as nine are caring for brothers, sisters and dying parents in child-headed households. Orphans are dropping out of school and turning to prostitution. UNAID estimates that there are 1.1 million AIDS orphans and predicts that, by 2015, more than 40 per cent of workers will have died of AIDS. The World Bank says that the number of children in primary schools has shrunk in four years by 21 per cent, and that 19 per cent of male teachers and 29 per cent of women teachers are HIV-positive. The AIDS epidemic is further spread by the routine rape of teenage girls in the militia camps.

I ask the Government why we, as members of the UN, are active over the tsunami and in Darfur, yet condone a loud silence about the wickedness in Zimbabwe, where the UN is actually present. I find it difficult to understand, with so many UN agencies on the ground and presumably reporting, why the UN Secretary-General has said and done nothing to bring the situation in Zimbabwe before the UN and the world. The ICRC—the International Red Cross—is not much better. It had a regional meeting in Harare last October to prepare people for UN or AU peace missions. What has it done in and for Zimbabwe? I should very much like to know whether it has been visiting Mr Roy Bennett.

Until now, the African Union has persistently opposed any British initiative on the grounds of our colonial past. They find no difficulty, however, in accepting generous help for their African army from the EU, where we are coupled with those admirable colonialists: the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Belgians, and the Germans—who are still remembered with hatred by the Hereros in Namibia.

However, the African Union Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights did carry out its own fact-finding mission in Zimbabwe in June 2002, and produced a report which was deeply critical of the repressive legislation, including POSA, the lack of oversight of the police, the attacks on the independence of the judiciary and on the freedom of the press, and they observed the party militia engaged in political violence. Their commission received evidence of arbitrary arrests and torture. Zimbabwe disregarded this report for nearly three years. This year it has been required by the AU to reply—largely because the report was leaked—and it has denounced the report.

SADC too has found its efforts to ensure a free and fair election and to send in observers rebuffed. Mr Mugabe evidently believes that he can treat his fellow African leaders with contempt and still be protected by his mystical status—and it is a mystical status—as the great liberator. I hope and believe that the time is coming when Africa, with the rest of the world, will see him clearly as the architect, with a few greedy jackals to share the spoils, of the near-destruction of a country.

I have seen corruption in the Congo and the collapse of a rich country, where there was no indigenous infrastructure left by the Belgians. In Zimbabwe, an even more corrupt and ruthless government have wantonly destroyed their own flourishing society; starved, beaten and killed large numbers of their own black people; ignored human rights—what are we to make of a regime which outlaws all charitable aid from outside for its starving and sick people?—and have ended up as a black hole in Africa, with no one but themselves to blame.

Fortunately, the AU's belated recognition of the truth about ZANU-PF has coincided with a new, extremely important and potentially valuable African development. COSATU, the trades unions in South Africa, has begun to be concerned about the treatment of workers in Zimbabwe and has twice tried to visit that country to talk to the Zimbabwe trades unions. The regime, as stupid as it is vicious, made the mistake of expelling it twice with contumely. That has dented the image of Mugabe in South Africa and, for the first time, Mr Mbeki's determined support for him is being questioned.

If COSATU and its brother unions in Africa and, indeed, in this country and the Commonwealth, were to encourage their governments to support the people of Zimbabwe, rather than the odious regime, that could materially change the situation for reasons that are not political but professional, pragmatic and fraternal. Other important African voices have been speaking for the people of Zimbabwe, not least those brave and respected Archbishops, Pius Ncube of Bulawayo and Desmond Tutu.

Now is the moment, when the G8 meets to discuss NePAD and the work of the Commission for Africa—I shall watch with interest to see whether the commission has at any stage addressed the problem of Zimbabwe—to make absolutely clear to the African countries that the time has come for them to use their power to restore good governance in Zimbabwe. They must be seen to do so, and through COSATU and SADC they have important levers. Unless they abandon the failed quiet diplomacy and recognise in the UN and in every other world forum the need for action, the G8 should declare a moratorium on all forms of aid and support under NePAD. The African countries cannot simultaneously reject our concern as colonialism on the grounds that Zimbabwe is an African issue and yet do nothing to end the incompetent and disastrous tyranny that is responsible.

Africans, like us, respect those who respect themselves. Allowing a once successful country to stay failed does not even make common sense. The IMF and World Bank should use their influence to make clear that action in Zimbabwe is a sine qua non for any future aid anywhere in Africa. The Africans must recognise that the white people of Zimbabwe are also committed to their country and are valuable to it.

Time is running out for Zimbabwe. It is disgraceful that while Mozambique and Iraq have provided overseas voting, the 25 per cent of the Zimbabwe electorate who fled abroad are denied it. A petition for free and fair elections has been organised in this country but, alas, it will have no effect. If we fail to act in every possible forum—the UN, the EU, the African Union, the G8 and even the Commonwealth—to enable Zimbabwe to restore itself, it will be a disgrace and no amount of debt-forgiving and politicians posing with happy black children will remove our guilt. We ignored ethnic cleansing in Matabeleland in the 1980s out of political correctness and appeasement and a fear of interfering. We must not see the death of a nation and be too lily-livered to act. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I say immediately that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for once again allowing us to debate the situation in Zimbabwe and for putting her views so clearly and succinctly. I agreed with much of what she said and, as I develop my argument, she will find that I am certainly no defender of the Mugabe regime.

I hope that I misunderstood the noble Baroness when she appeared to suggest that the scale of the disaster in Zimbabwe was as bad as those in Darfur and the tsunami countries. That is not the case. We overstretch the case if we over-egg the pudding by making the situation seem much worse than it is. We play into the hands of those who say that the situation in Zimbabwe has been misrepresented and that we should ignore what is stated in the press.

This April marks 25 years of Zimbabwean independence. It was the last of our colonies to obtain independence. Much has happened in the succeeding 25 years. We then looked forward with great anticipation to the freedom of the whole region of southern Africa. We have seen great progress in southern Africa. We have seen 10 years of a democratic South Africa with parliamentary institutions and respect for human rights deeply and solidly entrenched. We should celebrate that.

We cannot say the same about what has happened in Zimbabwe. The situation has deteriorated year by year, month by month and even day by day. Of course, President Mugabe blames that on the result of continuing colonialism. I do not dispute for one moment that to throw off the shackles of colonialism is not an easy matter. It cannot be done overnight.

Having said that, and recognising that there have been severe drought conditions in Zimbabwe, which have affected agricultural output, there can be no doubt that the situation has been exacerbated by—and much of it is directly the responsibility of—the ZANUPF Government. As the noble Baroness said, it is without doubt the author of Zimbabwe's misfortunes. I doubt that the land expropriation process was thought through. The sad thing is that money was available for many years for farmers in Zimbabwe to be trained, educated and helped in commercial agriculture. That money was available from the British Government as a result of the Lancaster House agreement. Nothing was done, which is extremely sad. As has been said, what was one of the finest agricultural countries in Africa has been destroyed.

Repression continues apace. The election process has been manipulated and thwarted by the police and the ZANU-PF militia. The Movement for Democratic Change has provided us with a checklist of how the South African Development Community protocol of principles and guidelines governing democratic elections has been carried out. It makes extremely depressing reading and shows that there has been no compliance whatever by Zimbabwe with those protocols.

Zimbabwe's neighbours are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx of refugees and some are facing severe problems and dislocation of their economies. It is hard to resolve the problem of refugees and not easy to deal with asylum seekers fairly. Although of course not on the same scale, there is no doubt that we in this country have problems with asylum seekers from Zimbabwe. My noble friend will know that there is a great deal of concern among Zimbabweans living in this country and among the friends of Zimbabwe about the returning of Zimbabwe asylum seekers, especially as President Mugabe has said menacingly that he believes that failed asylum seekers being returned are being sent back as agents provocateurs for colonialism.

Is there any mechanism by which we can monitor what is happening when refugees go back? Can we revisit that issue seriously? Notwithstanding the headlines in today's newspapers about the fact that few asylum seekers go back, can my noble friend give us some figures to show what is happening?

The dictatorship in Zimbabwe is holding an election. If I may be allowed a slight aside, some of the statements of propaganda by the Zimbabwe regime would be comical if they were not so serious. Twenty-five years after independence, the people of Zimbabwe are being told that this is an anti-Blair election. Where have I heard that before? Perhaps Mugabe's argument is that what is good enough for the UK is good enough for him. But seriously, it is really quite pathetic that that election is being fought on that level, not on what ZANU-PF can offer for the future.

He has played the anti-colonialist card crudely but, apparently, with some skill. There is no doubt that if you speak to people from the region, there is a lot of sympathy for Mugabe and what he stands for. That is undoubtedly so and we must recognise it. But even his strongest supporters must begin to wonder how serious he is as a politician when, for example, he attacks Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has stood all his life against oppression in South Africa and continues to stand against oppression. Archbishop Tutu is being condemned because, President Mugabe says, he prayed for the apartheid regime. Of course, he did pray for the apartheid regime: he prayed for its repentance and for the mending of its ways.

US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is dismissed in the most patronising and chauvinistic of ways because she is a woman and because her ancestors were slaves, so apparently she should know better than to allow those who follow on from the white masters of slavery to tell her what she should to. That is not a way in which to behave toward anyone.

Anyone who disagrees with Mugabe is castigated. As the noble Baroness said, a delegation from the Confederation of South African Trade Unions was expelled from the country—or not even allowed to get there. Newspapers are closed down and the state will not allow the opposition party a fair share of television broadcasting time to put its case. There seems to he no end to President Mugabe's paranoia.

However, we should not demonise President Mugabe. What bothers me perhaps more than anything is that while he is to blame, he is not the only one to blame. There are many people in ZANU-PF who should and do know better. They are the ones who should stand up and say what is wrong. Unless they are prepared to stand up and argue that the problems are not being sponsored from outside but are the fault of the country inside, they make life extremely difficult. If Zimbabwe is to have a decent future they will have to be courageous and stand up for democracy.

Many of the ZANU-PF people fought and died for freedom. They should now be prepared to stand up for those principles. The most difficult question we have to answer—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, posed some solutions—is what can we do to assist change? One thing is certain: we cannot compel or enforce change. When I have raised the issue with many members of the South African Government, they say to me, "What do you want us to do: invade the country?". I sometimes wonder whether that is what the Opposition are saying to us: do they want us to invade the country? Those days are past.

Therefore I am not suggesting in any way that there are any simple solutions. It is my firm view that those of us from outside have to try to resolve the problems. I believed that in the days of the apartheid regime; and that sanctions were right. The ANC believed that sanctions were right. Now if one raises the issue of sanctions with the South African Government they say that it would hurt the people we are trying to help. The situation is a mirror image of what happened in the apartheid days.

I believe that it is right for us to continue to engage in dialogue with President Mugabe and Thabo Mbeki and the South African Government, because they hold the key to what happens in Zimbabwe. There is no magic solution—I certainly do not have one—to bring the situation to an end. There are some who argue—it is a persuasive argument in some ways—that if South Africa would only stop the supply of electricity to Zimbabwe the Government there would crumble and disappear in a few days. I wish that it were that simple. There is no magic bullet.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, says, we have to continue to engage in every possible institution in which we can engage and push for change. That is the only way to go ahead. I have no road map for the future. All I can say is that we are right to stand up and make the case. Although there have apparently been one or two leaks, I do not know what the Africa Commission report, due to be launched this Friday, will say. I hope that it says something. There has been a silence, not only in this country—we have been less silent than most—but in southern Africa, for reasons that I cannot fathom, because everyone knows how bad the situation is.

Whatever happens, we must all speak out. Although occasionally the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and I have differences of emphasis there is a consensus in this country that the situation has to be changed and we must play a part. We want to see a future of peace and democracy and economic stability and change for Zimbabwe. That is something for which I fought for many years and I hope that I can live to see the day when it will happen.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I want to congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on having secured the debate and on a brilliant and extremely well informed speech. It was an excellent opening to our debate.

In October 2001 in Blackpool the Prime Minister made an important speech in the context of the formation of NePAD. He called for a partnership between Africa and the developed world. He said about the African position: it's a deal: on the African side: true democracy, no more excuses for dictatorship, abuses of human rights; no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states to the activities of Mr Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe". There have been some positive developments in relations between the developed countries and some African countries, but Zimbabwe has grown much worse since that time, as the two previous speakers pointed out. There are no human rights and no rule of law; there is the rule of a dictator. Economically, industrially and politically, Zimbabwe is a ruin.

The situation in Zimbabwe has been adequately described in this debate and in past debates. I want to talk about the effects of the situation there on neighbouring countries. The first point of which we should be conscious is the spread of AIDS. That has been encouraged by the effect of the poverty and unemployment in Zimbabwe, which has caused one member of each family in many cases to go abroad to earn the money with which food can be bought for his family to eat. That has led to a substantial increase in AIDS in southern Africa. Dr Roger Bate, who is the director of Africa Fighting Malaria, said last month: Business as usual is no longer an option; if political stability is not returned to Zimbabwe soon and the refugee population doesn't go home, then all AIDS efforts in the region may become worthless". The consequences of that diaspora are not limited to AIDS. Botswana is suffering seriously from the influx of Zimbabwean refugees. A member of the Botswana Parliament said recently that the police and defence forces of that country carry out a ping-pong exercise: on day one they push back over the border to Zimbabwe the refugees who have arrived in great numbers; and on day two the refugees come back over the border.

The plans for economic progress in SADC have been suffering. The proposals for southern African monetary union are stalled because of the economic effects of Zimbabwe. That is particularly hard on the smaller SADC countries. The economic board of the IMF is considering within the next five months whether Zimbabwe will be compelled to withdraw from the IMF.

One African leader could resolve the problem in a short time: President Mbeki of South Africa, one of Africa's most important leaders. Sadly it seems that he has not been giving much of a lead. Even though he played a leading role in the conclusion of the three important African treaties calling for good governance, human rights and the rule of law, he has not followed through.

Over the years he seems to have changed his attitude. Before the Zimbabwe elections of 2000 he called for as many observers as possible as soon as possible to go to Zimbabwe to ensure the fairness of the election. That sort of tone has not been followed up recently. He played a key role when the Abuja agreement was achieved in 2001. If carried through it could have had an important effect on solving the problems of Africa, but it was repudiated by Mr Mugabe.

More recently the maxim of President Mbeki has been "quiet diplomacy", which he has claimed would lead to talks to resolve the dispute between Mugabe and the MDC. It is not clear to me how much quiet diplomacy there has been. There have been rumours and reports that talks are happening: they have been denied by the MDC. There have been rumours that talks are about to happen but they have not had any real place. This talk about quiet diplomacy seems to have enabled the impasse about Zimbabwe to be dragged on, so that none of the issues that would be involved in a free and fair election would be addressed.

President Mbeki's attitude to the Zimbabwe problem is very different from his actions in other parts of Africa where he has been extremely active. He made 22 trips in other parts of the continent last year. He has foiled coups, he has ousted bad rulers and he has hosted talks between other leaders. He has sent South African troops to many countries as peacekeepers. He is regarded as Africa's leading statesman, ready to exert himself to resolve the difficult problems of Africa in any part of that continent. But he has not done it in Zimbabwe.

After the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, people close to the events told me that President Mbeki had lobbied the African members to call for Zimbabwe to be readmitted fully to the Commonwealth. Fortunately, that move was rejected.

Mr Mbeki has said that Africa's future will depend on what Africans do and not what they say. The western world has already become sceptical, I believe, about the ability and the will of African countries to carry through their obligations under the treaties to which I have referred. When they made those treaties, they had the best of intentions, but they have not followed up those words. That situation could have serious consequences certainly for the southern part of Africa, but, I believe, for Africa as a whole.

Now, it seems to me, Her Majesty's Government have an unparalleled opportunity to make up for their failure in the first two years after the Mugabe terror began. They failed to take any action in those two years, except to express various degrees of concern. HMG can now help to move forward the resolution of the problem of Zimbabwe.

In a few months' time, we will have the presidency of the European Union. We have already, this year, the chair of the G8 countries. The Prime Minister has set up the Commission for Africa which will produce its report in a few days' time. We are still a leading member of the Commonwealth. If the Prime Minister does not follow up his fine words at Blackpool in the present conjuncture by doing something about Zimbabwe, people may say—to paraphrase the words of Gordon Brown—that there is nothing he could ever say which we could ever believe.

3.43 p.m.

Baroness Boothroyd

My Lords, the persistence of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in seeking this short debate today is greatly appreciated. It gives some of us an opportunity to raise issues of grave concern about continuing developments in Zimbabwe. Although I freely admit that we in this House follow developments in that country, there are few of us as well informed as is the noble Baroness about the horrendously repulsive regime under which far too many of its people have to exist. We heard about that today in the speech made by the noble Baroness, which I shall be pleased to read tomorrow, and which we now have on the record of this House.

I wish to raise the case of Mr Roy Bennett, Member of Parliament, and the situation in which he finds himself in his own country. In a debate in the Zimbabwe Parliament in May last year, Mr Bennett, a Member of Parliament belonging to the Movement for Democratic Change, pushed the Minister of Justice, Mr Chinamasa, to the ground. In turn, Mr Bennett was kicked by ZANU-PF MP, Mr Mutasa. No one was hurt in the scuffle.

Mr Bennett had been the target of consistent harassment and abuse over a long period. I can well understand that he was at the end of his tether as a result of the abuse levied by the Minister of Justice at that time. For all that, I do not condone the action of Mr Bennett, but neither do I condone the procedure that followed.

In spite of Mr Bennett apologising to the Speaker and to the Minister of Justice—which he did on two occasions in Parliament—a privileges committee was established that comprised a majority of ZANU-PF members, with a government supporter in the chair.

The privileges committee, rather than carrying out the established function to preserve and serve the purpose of contempt of parliamentary proceedings, thereby maintaining the dignity and decorum of Parliament, sentenced Mr Bennett to 15 months hard labour, of which three months were to be suspended. The Zimbabwe Parliament endorsed the Committee's decision along strict, party-political lines.

In my view, the members of the Zimbabwe Parliament set aside their role as parliamentarians. They acted as a court of law and imposed a sentence that is unprecedented in international parliamentary practice. I believe that it is fundamentally flawed. Mr Bennett was given no right of appeal or recourse to a court of law. Had he been able to take legal action, I have no doubt that a typical sentence for common assault would have been a fine.

Mr Bennett's location in prison was kept from his family and legal representatives who searched the prisons throughout the area. When he was finally located, he was found to have been stripped, and clothed in a soiled prison garment that exposed his genitalia and buttocks". Those are not my words. I quote from the report of the Bar Council and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales. That is surely a flagrant and degrading maltreatment of a prisoner. It is incumbent on the Zimbabwe Government to condemn the prison authorities and to bring an immediate end to maltreatment of prisoners, whoever they may be.

A few weeks ago I raised this matter with the British branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I found its former chairman, Mr John Austin MP, and its current chairman, Miss Ann Clwyd MP, willingly and actively pursuing the issue with the Zimbabwe authorities through the IPU Committee on Human Rights in Geneva. I welcome the action that they have taken and are taking.

Perhaps it is a result of those representations that although the Speaker of Zimbabwe initially barred consideration of Parliament's verdict and sentence by a court of law, a first hearing took place last October when all parties concerned accepted the matter was urgent. But that was nearly six months ago and the judge has still not rendered his ruling.

The refusal to rule on appeals and release on bail not only currently prevents Mr Bennett exercising his parliamentary mandate and deprives his constituents of representation in the Zimbabwe Parliament, but also prevents him standing as a candidate in this month's elections in that country. However, since I entered this Chamber about one hour ago, I have received the news that Mr Bennett is not being allowed to stand in the Zimbabwe elections this month. But the chink of light is that his courageous wife, Heather, has taken on the flag of honour. She has accepted the challenge. God give her health and strength to carry it out. I wish her well in all that she is doing.

I reiterate that physical violence can play no part in the democratic process. I believe that Mr Bennett's sentence is disproportionate to his offence, and I know that it has not been tested by the normal judicial process. I know, too, that his treatment in prison gives rise to the gravest concern. I give all credit to the Inter-Parliamentary Union for taking action in support of the rule of law and against the violation of human rights in this case, as it does in others. What representations have the Government made to Zimbabwe to insist on the compliance of decent standards of justice and fairness? I wonder whether the High Commissioner has been invited to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss those issues. Have representations been made through our law officers, or through a third party such as the South African Government or the International Red Cross? Surely all those avenues are open to us.

I invite the Minister to give an indication of what the Government have done, or what they intend doing. I look forward to her response.

3.51 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend Lady Park won this balloted debate. She is without doubt a true friend of Zimbabwe. This is not the first debate that she has initiated, and I hope that it will not be the last. Somebody has to keep Zimbabwe on the agenda when the Government do not.

In the past few years, our debates have shown how the political, economic and social situation in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate rapidly. Those conditions are being exacerbated by poor rainfall this year, and the outlook for the country remains very bleak indeed.

However, there is some good news. The Mugabe-led regime has become even more isolated in recent months. Former allies in the form of Namibia, Malaysia and Libya have all distanced themselves recently following political changes in their own countries. China alone remains committed to support the regime and is doing so right now with some foreign assistance, such as military equipment, much of it being delivered to, help the military deal with any crisis following the elections in March", as the Herald newspaper so delicately put it on 22 February.

In the past six months, the AU has criticised the Zimbabwean Government for the first time. The SADC leaders have adopted standards with which elections in the region should comply, and South Africa has started, in a small way, to open up the debate on Zimbabwe. COSATU and the SACP—both important components of the ANC—have been very open in their criticism.

Despite this, the Mugabe government have not moved significantly to open up space for democratic activity. Some minor modifications have been made to the way in which the 31 March parliamentary elections will be held, such as, voting on one day the use of visible ink on fingers to identify persons who have voted, and no mobile voting stations. But apart from those changes, none of the major underlying principles for a free and fair election have been met.

There is still no freedom of speech or association. The media is still tightly controlled and the independent press banned or cowed. Recently, the remainder of the international press corps in Harare has been forced to flee the country despite being Zimbabwean citizens. The whole electoral process is tightly controlled and managed by security agencies, the military and the police.

The voters' roll is incomplete and contains massive distortions. At least half the population will be denied the vote by being excluded by administrative dictum, local unconstitutional regulations relating to voting rights or physical absence from the country, and a ban on postal or foreign balloting.

There is widespread political violence and intimidation. The police and the courts are being used to intimidate the opposition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, reminded us. There are 400 prosecutions of MDC activists taking place at present.

Funding from foreign sources is banned and local sources are intimidated by the security agencies and state threats. Food is very scarce. It is tightly controlled by the state and used as a political weapon against the opposition. MDC members are denied food from state-controlled agencies which have a state monopoly—the grain marketing board, for example. ZANU is threatening that communities which vote MDC—we know that they are the threat—will not receive food or assistance. The Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Mohadi, has said in speeches in his constituency, "Are you hungry? Vote ZANU and be fed".

Simple activities such as distribution of leaflets and putting up posters are made illegal. Regulations make it an offence to put a poster on a fence or pole without the approval in writing of the owner.

Last week President Mbeki of South Africa, who is unquestionably pro-ZANU-PF, said that he expected the Zimbabwean elections to be in accordance with SADC protocols and declared "free and fair". What does the Minister understand that to mean? Is it a cover for his inability to promote justice and his continued support for a corrupt, dictatorial regime?

Today SADC has stated that its observers will have "real power" in the electoral process. I, see, too, that Mugabe has barred the parliamentary forum of that association from monitoring the election. Does that mean that there will be a process whereby electoral rigging will be stopped? Without a proper, independently verified process, the elections will not be free and fair and must be universally condemned.

Despite claims that the economy has stopped declining—after a record six years of continuous annual decline in GDP with the economic output falling from US$8.4 billion in 1997 to US$4.8 billion last year—the economy will shrink again this year. The main reasons for that are continued falls in agricultural output owing to drought and very poor plantings with very little support in the way of inputs. Mining has been stopped in its tracks by new threats, and changes to the fiscal and foreign exchange regime and industry and tourism continue to shrink.

While the reserve hank projects 3 to 5 per cent growth, and the Minister of Finance projects 5 per cent growth, private sector economists are projecting at least 3 per cent decline in economic output in 2005.

The effect on the society of seven years of decline in the economy has been catastrophic. Life expectancy has fallen to 33 years from 59 in 1990. Incomes have been halved. Half the adult population has fled the country as economic refugees, many of them taking their AIDS infection with them to other countries. AIDS, sadly, has become Zimbabwe's major export. Of course, there are the other consequences that my noble friend Lord Blaker mentioned.

The number of jobs has fallen by more than 40 per cent. Death rates have risen exponentially, and now stand at three times the historical average. The national population is declining at the rate of up to 5 per cent per annum. At least half the population needs food subsidies to maintain their families. The UN estimates that 5.8 million Zimbabweans out of an estimated population of 11 million need assistance to get through the coming winter.

In the 2003–04 season, Mugabe claimed Zimbabwe produced 2.8 million tonnes of grain—some 800,000 tonnes more than was needed for domestic consumption. It is now known that total cereal production did not reach 1 million tonnes. Despite Mugabe's claims, the GMB has been importing steadily throughout the past year and imports are now reaching close to estimated daily consumption needs.

Even by its own admission, crop plantings in 2004–05 season have been very poor. Some state estimates put them as low as 20 per cent of target. Whatever the areas planted, the present position is that half the country in the south and east has had a very poor, wet season and now faces a long dry spell with limited surface water and virtually no food or grazing for livestock.

In the rest of the country, conditions are only marginally better. Plantings are small and the potential yields are well below historical averages. As a consequence, it is now expected that cereal production—all grains except wheat—will fall to well below last year's crop, which was already below the 50 per cent threshold.

Mugabe has banned most NGOs from operating in the field to give the ruling party a free hand in the rural areas, and has severely restricted the activities of the UN and the WFP. For this reason, the whole infrastructure built up over several years by the donor community—led by the USA and the UK—has been dismantled and is now in no position to help in any new crisis. Even the feeding schemes in primary schools by some NGOs have been closed down, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children to their fate and the weather.

Tobacco production is predicted to fall to 50,000 tonnes from 250,000 tonnes at its peak; milk production and oilseed production are down by half; horticulture is also down after holding its own for some years because of its semi-industrial character. Farm invasions and arbitrary confiscation of private assets is continuing. Food prices have risen across the board and are now among the highest in the region.

High sustained levels of inflation with controlled interest rates have destroyed savings. The average pensioner is now a pauper and totally dependent on the generosity of others and children overseas. I know someone who has saved all his life and whose policies mature next month. The total combined paid-up value will be $12, that is all now. This shows what a criminal regime can do to the savings of a nation in a very short space of time.

In Zimbabwe, there are an estimated 2.3 million HIV-infected adults—up from 2 million, which was the latest figure in our debate on 28 January 2004—only 5,000 of whom receive any form of treatment. AIDS deaths are running at 3,000 a week. The impact of this on the social and economic situation is difficult to compute. There have been epidemics of tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia, in a situation where the hospitals are without doctors, nurses or drugs. Even food and cleaning materials are in short supply.

In the school sector, the cost of schooling has risen dramatically as state funding has declined and the services of the Ministry of Education have deteriorated. More than half of all girls of school-going age are not in school, and the standard of education in functioning schools has declined. Pass rates as low as 3 per cent in some schools are now recorded. Illiteracy rates are rising after reaching an all-time low of 5 per cent in the heydays after independence in 1985.

The average Zimbabwean faces a nightmare situation. There are 1 million orphans, no jobs, declining buying power of salaries and shortages of just about everything. Going to a hospital is a death sentence unless one can afford expensive private facilities.

As we all know, this situation can be ascribed to one man and a few cronies—that man being Robert Mugabe. But we need to look at history. In 1976, a similar situation was occurring in Rhodesia. There was a log jam; there was one person blocking the road forward. That person moved because South Africa moved.

There must be much more pressure on Mr Mbeki. Sadly, Mr Mbeki has not fulfilled any of our expectations. His quiet diplomacy has failed. He is a broken reed who has caused quite deliberate economic decline and problems for the whole of southern Africa. As my noble friend Lady Park said, we need to do more in the international forums, in the UN and in the IMF.

The people of Zimbabwe now want a policy of "one man, one vote" in a free and fair election. We gave them that in 1980. We must help to give them that again now and then support whatever government come to power.

4.3 p.m.

Baroness D'Souza

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on securing the debate.

The important points about current conditions in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the elections have already been made very forcefully, particularly by the previous speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I would only add that a strong and co-ordinated statement from the South African Development Corporation, the EU and the US on pre-election abuses and conditions in Zimbabwe at the moment, and the IMF/World Bank consequences, would be timely and is certainly called for. Furthermore, even at this very late stage, international organisations could most usefully provide equipment such as videocams, cell phones, radios and transport, and broadcasts of independent election information, in the vernacular, in Shona and Ndbele, with the aim of being able to refute any postelection statements about the freedom and fairness of the forthcoming election.

I should like to speak briefly on what Zimbabwe might look like after the election and what avenues might be open to the international community to assist democracy and development. There seems to be little doubt that Mr Mugabe will win the election with a sizeable majority. The pressing question is what kind of majority will President Mugabe aim for and what might be the consequences.

The significance of the majority rests on various political developments in Zimbabwe in the past year or so. ZANU-PF is showing signs of discontent and various factions within the party are jockeying for succession. Two of these factions are led by former ZANU-PF government members. Various analysts predict that if President Mugabe wins a simple majority, his authority might be weakened, at least one faction would be strengthened and the party might be restructured to purge it of enemies. However, this kind of result would make it easier for the international community—especially SADC—to pronounce the election reasonably fair.

If President Mugabe is intent on a two-thirds majority, he would have to negotiate with factions within ZANU-PF on issues to do with succession. I think that at this stage the MDC would be unlikely to retain almost any kind of credibility after such a crushing defeat. This in turn could lead to weak and unstable government in a falling economy.

Of course, it is also possible that the election abuses and faction fighting could become so intense that the elections are stalled. This, in the view of one expert at least, could well provoke mass action by the MDC, trade unions and civil society organisations.

Zimbabwe appears to be moving towards ever more dangerous waters and the threat of a political and humanitarian disaster moves ever nearer. Inflation is, I think, 100 per cent greater this year than it was last year; corruption is at an all time high, as has been said by previous speakers; investment is decreasing month by month; and food shortages in the rural areas are reaching acute levels. The diaspora continues, especially in South Africa, which itself faces a growth in jobless people and a not too distant election in which President Mbeki's promises of improvement will be tested.

What can be achieved in this unpromising context and where can support for a move towards democracy be found? One hopeful change, again referred to by previous speakers, is that the immensely influential COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, is now openly critical of President Mbeki's quiet diplomacy approach, and other South African institutions such as the South African Institute of International Affairs—which, incidentally, is headed up by President Mbeki's brother—the South African Communist Party, the NGO Coalition and, very importantly, the South African Council of Churches, have echoed COSATU's concerns.

These are significant events and co-ordinated internal pressure in the context of the South African elections might successfully persuade South Africa to take a stronger role in Zimbabwe. Previously stalwart African state supporters of President Mugabe's policies, including Botswana, Ghana and Senegal, are questioning the conditions for a free and fair election.

A post-election economic recovery programme funded by the international community could be—in theory at least, and possibly in practice—agreed between the South African and Zimbabwean trades unions and other locally based groups. There could be rather more serious sanctions against business backers of Mugabe's regime. Sanctions stronger than the current ones on travel by Members of the Zimbabwean Government should be announced by the EU and the EU Cotoadu Treaty, which has a strong civil society element, should be brought to the fore.

There could be greater efforts to publish and disseminate the true extent of election abuses in Zimbabwe. President Mugabe has proved extremely adept at "packaging" his policies and even neighbouring countries are not widely aware of the extent of torture and other violations in Zimbabwe. A recent publication, the Zimbabwean, which is a weekly newspaper, will go some way towards redressing this balance.

Like other speakers, I refuse to believe that nothing can be done. I do not accept the current conditions in Zimbabwe. I am fairly certain that there will be a great deal of political and civil unrest in the near future and no one can deny that the world has been given ample warning of what is to come. If we are sincere in believing that abuses on the scale of those in Zimbabwe now are unacceptable, we must act.

This will require a more determined and coordinated approach based on political will. I therefore ask the Minister what will be the Government's response to the election and what plans are in hand to intervene to prevent conflict in Zimbabwe and perhaps in the southern Africa region more generally?

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for securing this timely debate and I congratulate her on her tireless endeavours on behalf of so many people who have suffered for far too long in the tragic situation in Zimbabwe.

I wish to focus on two issues: the Zimbabwe Government's policies towards NGOs and the plight of the churches.

On 23 November last year the Zimbabwean Parliament passed the NGO Bill which will have very serious implications for non-governmental organisations. For example, it will require them to register with a newly appointed commission, involving potential unprecedented interference and control and is a yet further attempt by the ZANU-PF elite to eliminate any threats to its stranglehold on power.

The Government will now be able to use far-reaching powers to close down any NGO that does not support the regime or which is seen to threaten the regime by monitoring and reporting human rights abuses. David Coltart, an opposition MP, says that the NGO Bill is, one of the worst attacks on the independence of the church". Sebastian Bakare, an Anglican Bishop, says, it is putting the church in a situation where it will be incapacitated. I think it's the beginning of the persecution of the church. We're heading for tough times". Furthermore, other bodies reporting on political violence and engaging in voter education—almost entirely funded from abroad—will be prevented from operating. With less information on domestic human rights and governance, the government, who have already suppressed the independent print and broadcast media, will become even less accountable to their people.

This act has still not been signed by the president, but the delay in the granting of presidential assent does not mean that there are not already serious problems for NGOs.

For example, it was reported on 24 February that Zimbabwe is already considering the deregistration of about 30 NGOs which it alleged had misused millions of dollars they had received from foreign donors last year. Zimbabwe's National Association of NGOs points out that the existing Private Voluntary Organisations Act—which dates from the era of Rhodesian UDI under Ian Smith—has no provision for state supervision of NGO accounts. The fear is that the Government are busy planning to implement provisions in the new NGO Bill while it is still awaiting President Mugabe's signature for enactment.

These plans to stifle dissent through wide-ranging powers of regulation and the prohibition on foreign funding will have serious repercussions for organisations working on some of the most critical support projects. Zimbabwe has one of the worst AIDS epidemics in the world and it is estimated that it has so far left behind nearly 1 million AIDS orphans. That point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

Worst affected are children in rural areas, where their plight is made worse through shortages of drugs, food and other resources. Food distribution and AIDS relief projects which are at present almost entirely foreign funded will almost certainly have to close down. That will have disastrous consequences for the poorest people. It is sadly timely that we are discussing these issues just two days before the Commission for Africa reports.

The equivocal attitude of many international relief agencies appears to have left them with the worst of all possible worlds. Perhaps this may serve as a lesson for the future. For far too long many people have refused to point a finger at the power lust and corruption of the ZANU-PF regime and identify it as the fundamental cause of the crisis in Zimbabwe for fear that it might jeopardise their operations in the country. As a result the crisis was allowed to grow unchecked by censure from international and regional bodies. But it has done those bodies little good. The regime—running out of scapegoats—has now chosen to portray aid and relief organisations as the agents of western imperialism.

After a concerted campaign by President Mugabe the UN World Food Programme, World Vision, Christian Care, Lutheran Development Services and several other donors have all had to cut back their work in Zimbabwe. Until recently the Government claimed Zimbabwe had sufficient home-grown maize to feed its 11.5 million people. Last year President Mugabe told British television: We are not hungry. Why foist this food on us? We don't want to be choked. We have enough". President Mugabe cannot accept food aid from the same western governments he accuses of trying to "recolonise" his country. But for propaganda reasons, he desperately needs to show the world that his seizure of farms has led to a food surplus rather than to food shortages in what could and should be a land of plenty.

But in January, maize meal again disappeared from shops across the country. The much-promised food surplus has come to nothing and desperate shoppers have been forced to buy imported rice or flour at prices they cannot afford. Thousands of once productive fields throughout the country have turned brown and are overgrown with weeds.

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo says the Government, want to control the food and politicise it, they'd rather kill people for the sake of power". He travels widely ministering to his flock in Matabeleland, a region long marginalised by the Government in Harare, and tells us from first-hand experience: There is continuing starvation in certain parts in the country and food is being used as a political tool in certain areas". Archbishop Ncube has been a shining example of courage and principle in speaking out on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe. But sadly too many leaders on the continent—church leaders and political leaders—have seen their solidarity as being with the government of Zimbabwe, corrupt and bent on maintaining their grip on power at any price. Speaking in Cape Town recently, the archbishop said President Mbeki had failed to give leadership on the issue of Zimbabwe—a point that has been made by other noble Lords—and that he would be booed in the streets of Harare if he were to ask the ordinary people what they feel about his so-called quiet, but in effect silent, diplomacy.

Will the Minister tell us specifically what is being done through the FCO's Global Opportunities Fund—especially the economic governance and sustainable development programmes—to engage South Africa as an ally rather than an obstacle in working towards a resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe? Access to justice, freedom of expression, the rule of law and combating torture all lie at the heart of those programmes, as do strengthening the role of civil society and promoting an independent media. These are the very issues on which the people of Zimbabwe long to hear the government of South Africa speak out.

That great hero of South Africa's own struggle for freedom and democracy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has not been afraid to speak out and to be a voice for the voiceless of Zimbabwe. His stern condemnation of the brutal excesses of the government there led President Mugabe to describe him as, an angry, evil and embittered little bishop". Many people are disappointed that the bishops of the Anglican Church have not done more to distance themselves from the Anglican Bishop of Harare—Nolbert Kunonga—in view of his outrageous pronouncements of support for President Mugabe. He is one of the most vociferous cheerleaders for the regime and has mocked those who oppose President Mugabe as "puppets of the West". As a reward Bishop Kunonga was given a farm in one of Zimbabwe's prime agricultural districts and he evicted more than 50 black workers with their families to make way for his own staff. His actions seriously damage the international reputation of Anglicanism.

Meanwhile, church leaders and members who criticise the Government face intimidation, arrest, detention and—in the case of foreigners—deportation. As one Methodist minister said: The state operates in a sinister way, not with any open or direct threats, but it certainly gives those who are proclaiming truth and justice cause to pause. We have to think before we make any statements because we know that the state, at the appropriate point, will take further action". For example, in a move apparently intended to put pressure on the church to desist from criticising the ZANU-PF regime, the government charged the Catholic diocese of Hwange and the Catholic Mater Dei hospital in Bulawayo with exchanging foreign currency illegally.

Last October Christians Together for Justice and Peace, an informal, ecumenical group of church leaders based in Bulawayo, convened a meeting of local pastors and other church leaders at the local Roman Catholic cathedral. The purpose of the meeting was to consider the impact of the NGO Bill on the work of the churches, and to decide a joint Christian response.

However, the CIO, the state security police who regularly monitor church services, took the leaders to the central police station saying the meeting was banned under the provisions of the Public Order and Security Act. I suggest that it is deeply disturbing that church leaders should have been banned effectively from considering the implications of a new piece of legislation for their Christian work.

Will Her Majesty's Government recognise that there is an urgent need for clear, authoritative and high-profile statements rebutting the propaganda of the Government of Zimbabwe? EU sanctions, renewed again only last month and directed only at named members of the Zimbabwe regime, are misleadingly blamed for bringing economic hardship to the population of Zimbabwe. Silence can all too easily be perceived as agreement and President Mugabe is a master at misleading and manipulating international opinion. We have a moral duty to stand up to his misrepresentations and to those of his remaining allies in the region.

Some claim that by speaking out we play into President Mugabe's hands, but to be dissuaded from setting the record straight on matters of fact and principle, through fear of how he might respond, simply allows him to set the agenda. We need only to remember the way he has portrayed the international agencies that have been providing humanitarian relief for millions of his countrymen. He is a man without honour, without scruples; he will distort what is said and he wants to present himself as an untarnished hero of the liberation struggle.

I ask the Minister what strictures we impose, alone or together with our fellow members of the EU, on those countries that repeatedly use their vote at the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights to thwart action being taken against Zimbabwe for abuse of human rights. I hope the Minister will reassure us that there is frank and honest engagement with Africa's regional leaders on the issue of Zimbabwe. Our presidencies of the EU and the G8 mean that we have a unique opportunity to bring clarity and focus to the thinking of the region on these issues.

Any negotiations on debt restructuring or developmental aid programmes need to be firmly tied to African engagement on good governance and genuine protection of human rights. Perhaps then the people of Zimbabwe will experience a genuine improvement in the quality of their lives and be able to share in the liberation for which they have struggled for so long.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for introducing this debate on Zimbabwe, as she introduced the previous debate a year ago. Since then, the already dire situation there has not improved; it has deteriorated even by international standards. Here I have to dissent from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside: Zimbabwe is experiencing a first-class disaster.

A note that I received two days ago from a correspondent in Zimbabwe reads: The repression continues unabated. A couple of weeks ago the Government chucked out the remaining international reporters and closed down another newspaper. Food aid continues to be used as a tool to starve people as punishment for having voted for the opposition, and the elections will be a shambles. No observation has been properly planned let alone started. The South Africans will send some rubber stamping representative". It is generally acknowledged that the situation on the ground is dire, both politically and economically, so I do not need to spend much time going over that ground, but I shall give a few highlights. The UN International Crisis Group reported in April 2004 that at the core of the state is, violence, used in both targeted and indiscriminate ways". A Foreign Office Written Answer in the other place on 18 May 2004 stated: The Government of Zimbabwe … has repeatedly harassed and intimidated and attacked the opposition, independent media and wider civil society".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/04; col. 876W.] The FCO office states that the re-election campaign of Mugabe in 2002 was characterised by, systematic violence and … draconian restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, association and assembling". After a visit last year, Stephen Irwin, QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, talked of the, destruction of a once fine working justice system". The electoral process is manipulated by means of, beatings, arrests, bribery, fraud and intimidation". Opposition spokesmen are routinely arrested on trumped-up charges and the judges who throw them out are themselves forced out of office. Youth militias—the so-called Green Bombers—are trained to torture and to kill opponents. All that comes on top of the massacre of 25,000 Ndebele, who supported Joshua Nkomo in the 1980s.

So much for the politics. The economy is, if anything, worse. According to the International Crisis Group it has been, shrinking at a world record speed". Since 2000, GDP has been declining at an average rate of about 10 per cent a year; inflation has been running at several hundred per cent a year; and foreign investment has completely collapsed. With the decimation of agriculture, mining and residual tourism produce what foreign exchange there is. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe cannot feed its own population. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that 70 per cent of the 11.8 million inhabitants are on the verge of starvation and are supported by food aid. The proportion of people between 15 and 49 suffering from HIV/AIDS is about 30 per cent, one of the top five in the world.

Summing up, the FCO writes: The economic decline has been caused largely by years of government corruption and mismanagement, but this has been compounded by the disruption to the crucial agricultural sector, where the Government has sanctioned invasion of commercial farms by its supporters, precipitating collapse in investor confidence and capital flight". Zimbabwe now ranks 151 out of 155 countries in the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom.

On any criterion, the Government of Zimbabwe are not fit to run the country. They lack the competence, integrity, mandate and concern for the public wellbeing to do so. It is in fact a failed state and the international community should be prepared to treat it as such. What is to be done? The response of the international community, including, I regret to say, Her Majesty's Government, has been pathetically weak. The only EU sanction in place is a travel ban and assets freeze—full of holes—for 95 named individuals. The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe from membership before Zimbabwe left voluntarily. When asked the question, "We invaded Iraq, why not invade Zimbabwe?", the FCO replied in an official paper: We were able to take action in respect of Iraq because of its defiance of mandatory UN Security Council resolutions. There has been no Security Council resolution in respect of Zimbabwe". But that statement omits the fact that the UK has never asked for one. It has sponsored a resolution before the UN Commission on Human Rights, but the FCO reports: Regrettably, other African states introduced motions to block discussion". Last year, HMG considered tabling a resolution on Zimbabwe at the UN General Assembly; perhaps it did but as far as I know nothing has come of it.

The EU's game may be called "Waiting for Mbeke". President Mbeke of South Africa has promised to secure Mugabe's removal by quiet diplomacy. It is so quiet that no one has been able to hear it. Now the International Crisis Group talks of, crafting special benchmarks and timelines for a free and fair electoral process". Words, words, words, signifying nothing.

Let us start from principle and try to work down to practicality. The UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which reported on 7 December, and which this House debated on 2 February this year, laid down the doctrinal basis for intervention in Zimbabwe; namely, the duty to protect the innocent". It squares this with the UN's primary purpose, to maintain international peace and security, by stating: Any event or process that leads to large-scale death or lessening of life chances … is a threat to international security". That point was powerfully reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and other noble Lords, in connection with HIV-infected emigration from Zimbabwe. According to the eminent panel, state sovereignty today— clearly carries with it the obligation of a State to protect the welfare of its own peoples". If it fails to do so, some portion of those responsibilities should be taken up by the international community, acting in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". This reform doctrine is not universally accepted, but it has already been acted on in Somalia, Central America, Yugoslavia and the Congo. At present, there are 65,000 UN troops engaged in peacekeeping operations around the world, including seven missions to Africa. The bottom line is that assault on the innocent—politically and economically—is increasingly accepted as a valid ground for intervention under Chapters VI and VII of the UN charter. My own view is that we should move rapidly up the escalator of sanctions, culminating in military intervention to depose Mugabe and his gangster Government if they do not give up power voluntarily. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said that he could not see a road map and perhaps mine is naive, but here is my road map. Her Majesty's Government should first bring the Zimbabwean situation to the attention of the UN Security Council as a threat to international peace and security under Chapter VI, Article 34. The Security Council may recommend such peaceful measures to settle the problem as it deems appropriate. Under Article 41, these involve applying economic and diplomatic sanctions. Should these fail to do the job, it can authorise the use of military force to restore security under Chapter VII. I would envisage a maximum period of about one year for this process to go through, leading to the removal of the present regime and UN-supervised elections to choose its successor.

I will be told that this is pie in the sky: that France, China or Russia would veto any such measures. I do not know whether that is true. Have the waters been tested? Have Her Majesty's Government tried to coordinate a robust UN strategy with the United States and its European partners? I do not know. Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

However, even if the United Nations refuses to move, the USA and UK, acting together, have the power to bring down the regime by stopping aid of any kind until a legitimate government are installed. They provide most of the aid on which Zimbabwe subsists.

Secondly, we are told that President Mbeke would object. It was right to give South African quiet diplomacy a chance. It is equally necessary to recognise, however, that it has failed and that we may have to act independently of South Africa if we are to bring succour to the suffering people of Zimbabwe. My hunch is that any external pressure on Zimbabwe, or even any credible threat of such, will cause the regime to collapse.

In short, my criticism of Her Majesty's Government is that while their initiatives have been invariably well-meaning, they have been completely ineffective. The Government have not been willing to invest any political capital in ensuring that they are effective, even at this late date. They must now decide to do so.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, has always been a staunch friend of Zimbabwe. She has worked extremely hard in recent months to ensure that the ordeal of the people remains firmly on our agenda. I know that many thousands of Zimbabweans would be extremely grateful to her for highlighting their desperate situation once again today. There is less than three weeks to go before an election which is universally acknowledged as already having been rigged to ensure that the aged despot will have another five years to complete the ruin of the country and the destitution of his people. Recent experience, however, has shown that dictators can be toppled and usurpers ousted, and the will of the people can prevail. In Ukraine, they secured the victory of President Yushchenko. In Togo, the unopposed succession of the late ruler's son was stopped and an election is to be held. In Lebanon, popular demands for the withdrawal of Syrian troops have almost forced that to happen.

Unfortunately, the international community is not united on Zimbabwe. That is the fallacy in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. He would never get a resolution through the Security Council, as he wishes, because it would be vetoed by the Chinese and the Russians.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for giving way. He says that a resolution would be vetoed by China and Russia. What evidence does he have for that?

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I shall come on to that. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, may be aware, in the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, which has been described by several noble Lords, a vacuum has been left in which the Chinese are intervening in a big way. They have economic interests in preserving the Mugabe regime, which would certainly compel them to take such a stand in the Security Council. The Russians, of course, are vehemently opposed to the idea of international interventions along the lines that the noble Lord suggested, where it is primarily to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. That is not yet, unfortunately, part of customary international law.

In Zimbabwe, the people cannot act as they did in Beirut or Kiev because of the curfews, laws inhibiting freedom of expression or assembly and the arbitrary arrests of opposition candidates which have been mentioned—particularly including Godfrey Chimombe in Shamva last month and Joel Mugariri in Bindura. Your Lordships will be aware of the case of Hilda Mafudze, the gutsy candidate for Manyame, who reported that 11 of her young helpers were set upon by ZANU-PF thugs, and the police refused to act.

I wonder what it takes to convince the neighbours that the will of the people is being subverted. Journalists were not allowed to ask any questions after the press conference that Condoleezza Rice had with the South African Foreign Minister last week, but the Secretary of State's spokesman said afterwards that monitors should be allowed to observe the process.

Yet the regime has shown its true colours, as has been said, by arresting and threatening three journalists last month, forcing them into exile, frightening another into hiding; by closing down the Weekly Times as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has pointed out—the fourth paper to have its licence revoked under the infamous Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act; by the draconian process in the NGO Bill, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox; by the Public Order and Security Act, also mentioned by the noble Baroness; the refusal of entry, twice, to delegations from the South African trade union organisation COSATU, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside; and by the exclusion of the SADC parliamentary forum from the list of those who will allowed to attend the elections.

There will be an official SADC delegation attending, under the leadership of the South African Minister for Home Affairs. The South African Parliament and the ANC have also each been invited to send a team. I suggest it would be useful if those with direct knowledge of the situation in Zimbabwe would submit written evidence to those delegations, particularly to SADC, in the hope that they might publish it together with their report.

The assessment of whether an election is free and fair is not just a matter of what happens in the few days leading up to the poll. In the case of Zimbabwe, it ought to include an examination of the presidential elections of 2002 and of the parliamentary elections of June 2000, and the changes in the law which, as has been said, have severely limited freedom of expression and assembly since then, breaking the rules of the SADC election protocol which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.

The examination should look at the numerous reports by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Churches, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Lawyers for Human Rights; and of course it should cover the many reports in the South African media and on SW Radio Africa, which broadcasts to the people of Zimbabwe, revealing the situation that is concealed from them by their own leaders.

Any assessment should also review the findings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. It has documented the case of 32 MPs who have suffered torture, arbitrary detention and severe harassment. I particularly hope that our parliamentary colleagues from SADC countries who are selected for the election observation teams will study the reports and resolutions on Zimbabwe which I understand the IPU will be sending them, and that they will try to meet the MPs who have suffered persecution in Zimbabwe and deal with that matter in their own reports.

The international community's responsibility for preventing the crisis in Zimbabwe dragging down the rest of southern Africa, as has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and others, is a huge one. The Commission for Africa is about to launch an agenda for eradicating poverty and accelerating Africa's progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. Yet the economy is in freefall, as has been described by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The arrears of payments to the International Monetary Fund amount to $306 million, even though Mugabe has found $240 million to buy Chinese military vehicles and weaponry which were delivered at the end of February. That is another answer to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. There is an increasing military relationship between Zimbabwe and China which they have an economic interest in maintaining.

I wonder whether the Government would ask the IMF to conduct a desk study of the possible steps that could be taken to reverse the trends if conditions allowed, in time for the G8 Gleneagles summit in July. NePAD, the Sachs plan to accelerate the MDGs, and the US Millennium Challenge Fund are all based on the idea that more aid will go to countries which can demonstrate their commitment to good governance, the rule of law and human rights. So countries such as Zimbabwe will not qualify; but when they do get back on the reform track, they ought to be able to make ultra rapid progress by reason of their previous experience and well-educated population.

So, picking up the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, there should be a framework plan for resuscitating the economy with numbers attached to it, so that the international community can spring into action when the time comes, so that people can see what the benefits would be of a return to democracy.

Lastly, we are dismayed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, by the policy of the Home Office of shipping failed asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe even in the cases where their membership of the MDC has been clearly demonstrated. The UNHCR, having kept the situation under review since the violence of March 2002, concluded that, there has been no detectable abatement of political violence against the opposition, particularly the MDC. Instances of violence have continued to occur and … members real or perceived of the MDC … continue to be the target of human rights violations … The same applies to other persons who, because of their background, might be considered to be critical of the current regime". In the light of that assessment, the UNHCR advises that the suspension of forced removals should continue. I do not go quite as far as that because I know that some who apply for asylum in this country are members of the ZANU-PF or even, in one or two cases, of the CIO. But the Zimbabwe Association has documented 138 cases of Zimbabweans detained since 16 November, and two who had Malawi documentation, who have been detained for over a year. It says that many of the persons detained were poorly represented in the first instance. I can certainly confirm that from my own knowledge of individual cases. Because of the restrictions on legal aid, it is extremely difficult to find representatives willing to act where a fresh application is warranted on the basis of the evidence that comes to light after appeal rights have been exhausted.

So I would appeal to the Government to consider allowing those who have failed in their asylum applications but who have good documentary proof that they were active members of the opposition to lodge fresh applications with the necessary legal aid.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have said, Britain has the unique opportunity as president of the G8, having put Africa at the top of the list of priorities for the summit at Gleneagles this July, to require all African states, and particularly those that are members of SADC, to act on Zimbabwe. Quiet diplomacy has failed and we must now call on the rest of Africa to deliver on the commitments of the Harare Declaration, to "work with renewed vigour" for, democracy, democratic processes and institutions … the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and just and honest government". Those are the things that the people of Zimbabwe want, and we must help Africa to deliver them.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, once again I congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on returning to this vital issue. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lord Caithness were quite right to say that she is a true friend of Zimbabwe.

My noble friend Lady Park alluded to the lack of engagement on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Will Her Majesty's Government make representations to Mr Annan about this? The plight of the people of Zimbabwe should not be left off the UN agenda.

I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said concerning the harm that will be done to humanitarian relief and human rights monitoring as a result of the NGO legislation in Zimbabwe. Major international NGOs must be persuaded that they are not operating in a politically neutral country. The Government should communicate that fact to agencies supported by DfID so that matters of governance and democracy are not excluded from the agenda of those organisation. Their public statements can carry enormous weight internationally.

The noble Baroness's comments on the reluctance of the Anglican Bishops to face up to this horrific situation within their own communion are well made. I am very sorry that there are no Bishops here for this important debate. The Church is not reluctant to prescribe solutions to crises elsewhere in the world. I hope that they will attend to their scandalous brother, the Bishop of Harare.

My noble friend Lord Blaker made important points about the impact of the crisis on the economies of the entire region. Will Her Majesty's Government engage in dialogue with the IMF to ensure that the crisis is seen in this context and that Zimbabwe's neighbours are warned of the full consequences of their failure to help bring about a resolution? Many in the United Nations, especially in the African bloc, have said that the situation in Zimbabwe is an internal one, that it does not involve the rest of the world. But I agree with what my noble friend said, and I agreed entirely with my right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary when he said: I don't believe it is internal. I think what we are seeing now is a crisis which is spreading beyond the borders of Zimbabwe. Refugees are pouring into Botswana, in the north part of South Africa, and the humanitarian crisis is not one that is going to be specifically restricted to Zimbabwe". The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, drew the House's attention to the shocking case of Roy Bennett. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, gave a masterly overview of what might happen after the election in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have continued to commit serious human rights abuses since their last so-called electoral victory in 2002. The systematic persecution of civil society activists and political rivals has left the nation, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, in a shambles. Sadly, there is little reason to suppose that the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe will not resemble those of the past, as a mockery of democratic rights and governance.

Yesterday I received a communication from the acting deputy representative of the UNCHR. Since the March 2002 elections, he writes, There has been no detectable abatement of political violence against the opposition, particularly the MDC. Indeed, it would seem that instances of violence have continued to occur and that members and supporters—real or perceived — of the MDC or any other opposition party reportedly continue to be the target of human rights violations, including ill-treatment, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention. The same applies to other persons who, because of their background, might otherwise be considered to be critical of the current regime". Under Mugabe's leadership, the nation has undergone massive economic regression, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said. According to the Government of Zimbabwe's own statistics, inflation now stands at 133 per cent, having reached a peak of 622 per cent in January last year. Astonishingly, the governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, who was unwisely allowed into this country last year on a fundraising visit, forecasts that inflation will be below 10 per cent next year. The negative trend in the economy has caused rises in disease, food insecurity and a general feeling of unease among the population.

I am appalled that it was possible for ZANU-PF fundraisers to visit this country, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will pay urgent attention to tracking down the donors and conduits of these funds, and to cutting off the fountainhead of ZANU-PF's electoral bribery and patronage.

Furthermore, the Government have shown very little vigour in pursuing funds that should be frozen under the EU-targeted sanctions. This is an area where they can show they mean business, if indeed they do. What does this say about the Government's commitment to Africa? Are we working to improve conditions there, or are we attempting, as we have done so often in the past, to look like we are?

An election is looming, described by Mugabe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, as an anti-Blair election. The Zimbabwean Government have stepped up their campaign of fear. The Zimbabwean, a magazine published by refugees living in this country, reports that ZANU-PF youth militias have been ordered to "crush the opposition". During elections in 2000 and 2002, these militias committed many human rights abuses, which have been thoroughly documented by numerous NGOs and governments alike.

It will be impossible, however, to expose abuses in this election. As my noble friend Lady Park said, all foreign journalists have been kicked out. Without any unbiased reporting, the elections can proceed in any manner the government see fit. SADC election observers are supposed to be granted access to the country 90 days before the election, yet they are not due to depart for Zimbabwe until next Monday, barely two weeks ahead of polling day. The bribery and intimidation of the electorate have all been taking place for months now. The SADC Parliamentary Forum, the only African observer group to issue a scathing verdict on the 2002 elections, has this time been banned from sending a mission.

Both President Mbeki and Foreign Affairs Minister Zuma of South Africa are on the record as saying that they believe the Zimbabwean election will be free and fair. Earlier this year the South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said: There is no reason to believe that there is anyone who would want to infringe on the rights of the Zimbabwean people to express their will fully at these elections". And yet these are the very people to whom the leaders at the G8 Gleneagles summit are expected to entrust leadership of Africa's renaissance through good governance and respect for human rights.

G8 Ministers ought to be pressed on how they are using the leverage of their meeting. At the very least, they should be charged with the creation of a report detailing what has been achieved in Zimbabwe since the previous G8 meetings. The report ought to include an honest assessment of press freedom, electoral processes and human rights in general. There is no reason for the G8, EU, UK or anyone else to increase aid to southern Africa unless governments of the region can show that they are serious about ensuring reforms towards good governance in Zimbabwe.

The Prime Minister has made Africa a priority issue. He has created the Commission for Africa, in addition to putting the easing of misery there high on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit and the British EU presidency. I welcome these ambitions. So far, there have been too many fine words and resolutions and not enough evidence of engagement.

I have doubts whether the Africa Commission will be able to create meaningful reform in southern Africa. One of its members is President Mkapa of Tanzania, the African leader favoured with more British aid than any other country—most of it, I must say, well spent. On 17 February, President Mkapa made statements exonerating Mugabe for any wrongdoing, saying, I don't see Zimbabwe as an illustration of bad governance. I don't buy it". Mkapa also claimed that the opposition MDC was somehow responsible for the violence in Zimbabwe. Such statements can only give comfort to Mugabe and help drag Africa down. Her Majesty's Government must denounce such outrageous statements loudly and clearly.

President Mkapa and SADC also opposed the recently extended EU sanctions on 95 members of the Mugabe government, and used the opportunity to support Mugabe's land redistribution policy, despite the fact that Mugabe himself has recently admitted its failure as much of the land has been left idle.

The sanctions currently in place focus predominantly on travel restrictions on those in the regime. They have been in place for three years, but have not done enough to deter widespread government abuses. Zimbabwean refugees living in this country tell me that, without broader scope, these sanctions cannot achieve their desired ends.

The international community must take a stronger stance with Robert Mugabe and SADC. The UK is well placed to spearhead this, given our central roles in the EU, the Commonwealth and G8. We must transfer the responsibility from Mugabe alone to the rest of the African states as well. It is their responsibility to foster good governance, as they accept through the creation of SADC, NePAD and the African Union.

Now is not the time to fall silent. We must not allow Mugabe quietly to steal yet another Zimbabwean election. We will be seen as utterly hypocritical by the millions of voiceless in Africa if we stand alongside those fighting for fair elections in Ukraine, only to watch Mugabe get away with murder—literally. Together with the people of Zimbabwe, who deserve freedom and prosperity. Britain can help set the agenda. We must use all the leverage and influence at our disposal to gain support for progress from the international community.

4.59 p.m.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we have had an excellent debate, which has been learned, reflective and at times passionate. I join all noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on having introduced this important debate and on her commitment to helping the people of Zimbabwe. The timing of the debate, coming only three weeks before parliamentary elections, is important. These are difficult times for the people of Zimbabwe, as many noble Lords have so eloquently described. They have been ill served by a regime determined to hold on to power and unconcerned with the suffering that its policies cause.

I hope that in the time allotted to me I shall be able to answer many of the questions put by noble Lords in the body of my contribution. If I do not respond to any outstanding questions, I shall of course write to noble Lords.

I had the opportunity last year to provide a background of the situation in Zimbabwe at a similar debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. It is unnecessary to go over that ground again, as the contributions this afternoon served to underline the depth of understanding in this House of the crisis in Zimbabwe. But I start by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and other noble Lords, that Zimbabwe has attracted, and continues to attract, the closest attention of this Government. Our intentions have always been clear: we want to see a return to a democratically accountable government that represents and respects human rights and the rule of law.

However, this is not just about the UK and what we want. The EU, the Commonwealth and other international partners have all expressed their outrage in the past at a regime that continues to show contempt both for the rule of law and for international opinion. As an example of the broad-based international concern about the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe, I refer noble Lords to the recent decision by the European Union, reached, as it must, in unanimity, to extend the targeted measures against Mugabe's regime for a further 12 months from 21 February. We were, as a Government, strong advocates of that action.

Parliamentary elections are due on 31 March. Several noble Lords have raised deep concerns about the process of the elections and their credibility. We continue to have grave reservations about the prospects of them being free and fair—in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Some concessions and cosmetic changes have been made to bring the electoral environment into line with the guidelines on the staging of democratic elections that the Southern African Development Community—SADC—drew up, a point to which my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside referred. Zimbabwe has signed up to those guidelines.

The guidelines prescribe political tolerance and fair access of all parties to the media. We know that genuine press freedom does not exist in Zimbabwe, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us. Laws have been passed ensuring government control over the past two years. Much of the private media has been closed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said. Dissenting voices have been arrested or intimidated, and the public media is largely partisan. To make a concession to SADC, legislation was passed allowing the audio-visual media to cover opposition publicity. That is a minor step forward and should be extended to the written press. But the regime's natural reluctance to tolerate free speech was demonstrated when as recently as 11 February, the authorities launched a crackdown on three of the last remaining correspondents for foreign media organisations, one a British citizen. Regrettably, they have all now left Zimbabwe.

Freedom to campaign and associate without fear of retribution is enshrined in the SADC principles. Freedom of association has simply not been a reality over the past two years, as the authorities have continued to employ legislation to make it difficult for the opposition to campaign or meet their constituents. Again, despite assertions from Harare that violence will not be tolerated during the election, there have been notable recent examples of MDC candidates and supporters being targeted by the ZANU-PF youth militia.

Recent moves to bring the youth militia under the wing of the military, to award all security personnel a 1,400 per cent pay rise—as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, reminded us—and to recall all those who have retired from the military in the past 10 years, simply heighten the sense of fear. Relaxing some conditions in the few weeks immediately before the election, while necessary, does not detract from the actions of the past two years.

An electoral commission has been established as required by SADC principles. But it was established too late and given no office space, funds or staff to do the job that it is meant to in managing the elections. Observers also have concerns about the voters roll, with thousands of alleged "ghost voters" contained in the lists, as well as names missing. Access to the roll has been made very difficult.

On broader issues, concern has been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside about the Government's policy to return to Zimbabwe failed asylum seekers. As my honourable friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration said in another place, we have simply brought, our policy on returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers into line with that of every other country".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/11/04; col. 78WS.] The decision to resume enforced returns was linked to the mounting number of false claims encouraged by the suspension on returns. Let me be absolutely clear that that change in policy does not reflect any change in our categoric opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. I also assure the House that every applicant is considered on his or her individual merits, in accordance with our obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees 1951 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister respond to the point I made earlier? One hundred and thirty eight cases have been documented by the Zimbabwe Association of asylum seekers who the association says were wrongly refused asylum because they had bad representation. Will the Minister consider the suggestion that I made that at least in those cases submitted by the Zimbabwe Association of people whose membership of the MDC is vouched by documentary evidence, they will get another chance to appear before an adjudicator?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, what I can say to noble Lords is that if they have any evidence that those people who have been returned have been abused in any way, we would be very happy to look at that evidence, if noble Lords present it to us.

If an applicant meets the definition of a refugee—and each case is looked at very carefully, including the history and associations in Zimbabwe of the person in the case—they will be granted asylum.

On the subject of humanitarian assistance, life is difficult for all Zimbabweans. Our concern is not, as Mugabe would have it, based solely on the problems experienced by white farmers. In fact, many more black Zimbabweans have suffered acutely from a desperate economy and a botched so-called land reform process, which has destroyed the commercial agricultural sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reminded us, and handed stolen land to regime cronies, not to the needy workers as Mugabe has claimed. As I said in the debate last year, we are trying to pick up the pieces from the havoc Mugabe has wrought on his country. I assure noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who spoke at length on the issue of food shortages, that our policy continues in remaining committed to helping those most in need. Through DfID, we have contributed £71 million for humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe since the food crisis emerged in September 2001, and we continue to provide support to more than 1.5 million of the poorest people through international NGOs and the UN. That funds food aid.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we know that DfID is pursuing a generous and well targeted programme of food aid, but who controls it? Does DfID control it on the ground, or is it handed over to the government? That is the point at issue for people on the ground. It is perfectly wasted if we give food and it is used by Mugabe.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, through its monitoring processes in Zimbabwe, DfID makes sure—so far as it is possible to make sure—that the food goes to the people for whom it is intended and is not dispersed among Mugabe's acolytes. I shall reply in more detail to the noble Baroness in writing. The food aid goes particularly to the chronically ill, and includes seeds and fertilisers.

HIV/AIDS was brought up by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park. Like so much of Africa, Zimbabwe is blighted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is now one of the worst-affected countries in the world, with more than 3,000 AIDS-related deaths per week and 25 per cent of the adult population affected. We are developing new initiatives to support the rollout of anti-retroviral treatment, and to support orphans and vulnerable children. Annual spending on that programme has averaged approximately £8 million over the past few years, and is expected to more than double in the future.

In both this House and another place, we as a government have been told that we are not doing enough. It is important again to underline the extent of what we are doing, as well as to recognise the limits of what we can do. We continue to work very closely with our international partners to isolate Mugabe and oppose his policies. Mugabe continues to argue that the issue is a bilateral one between us and Zimbabwe. As my noble friend Lord Hughes said, Mugabe's current election campaign is run on the single slogan of "Anti-Blair", which underlines the importance of our maintaining international consensus. The people of Zimbabwe know that the UK has no colonial designs on it, and that the collapse of the economy is down to Mugabe's poor stewardship of the country, not due to Britain. We believe that we have most impact in partnership, notably with the European Union.

Baroness Boothroyd

My Lords, I appreciate that we are working through the European Union and perhaps other organisations, but what are we doing? Have we talked to the High Commissioner? We have had silence through South Africa. Are we making our voice felt through South Africa? I would like to know what the Government of my country are doing independently. This is my country; I have a right to know what my Government are doing in this respect.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we continue to raise the matter of the abuse that Mugabe entertains on his own country at all levels—not only though our international partners, but of course bilaterally through our people in Harare. We call in the ambassador. I shall come to that in a moment., and specifically to the noble Baroness's question on Roy Bennett. I believe that my honourable friend Chris Mullin called the ambassador in on 22 February to discuss abuses in Zimbabwe. We put pressure on bilaterally as well as through our international partners.

On 21 February, the EU rolled over for a further 12 months sanctions that have been in place since 2001 aimed at Mugabe and his political entourage. As noble Lords will know from previous debates, the EU has tabled motions on Zimbabwe at each of the past three meetings of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Many noble Lords have talked about what they saw as the UN's ineffectual progress on the issue. In December, the EU tabled a Zimbabwe resolution at the UN General Assembly, demonstrating the strength of its opinion on Zimbabwe.

Noble Lords know that Zimbabwe opted to leave the Commonwealth. Partners worked hard to bring about a return to democratic government. The decision to suspend the country for failing to meet basic standards of good governance—ironically known as the Harare principles—was not taken lightly. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, talked about how we would approach Zimbabwe in the future. We would be the first to welcome back to the Commonwealth a newly democratised Zimbabwe.

There were a number of critics of South Africa's role during the debate. We welcome the efforts that President Mbeki has made to encourage Mugabe to adhere to the basic expectation of democracy. However, we are disappointed that there has been little evidence of a positive response from Zimbabwe to South Africa's overtures. We will continue to work with South Africa and other African nations, particularly within SADC, on policies that will bring about the necessary changes.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of elections. We look to those who provide election monitors, notably SADC, to ensure an objective assessment of the forthcoming elections. They should acknowledge if there are positives, of course. However, a few cosmetic changes just before the election cannot override the abuse of basic human rights of freedom of expression and association which has been endemic for years in Zimbabwe.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, accused the African Union of doing very little. We speak to African partners at continental level through the African Union, and at sub-regional level. Like her, we welcome its moves to accept a highly critical document about the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe in 2002. However, we remain frustrated that more progress has not been made. We continue, bilaterally and through international bodies, to press Africa to grasp forcefully the problems inherent in Zimbabwe.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and other noble Lords asked about UN action against Zimbabwe. The EU tabled the resolution at the UNGA last year, which covered human rights. However, noble Lords will know that it fell to a "no action" motion tabled by the African group. It was basically blocked. That was a disappointment to us, of course.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Park, Lady Cox and Lady D'Souza, the noble Lords, Lord Hughes and Lord Skidelsky, and others asked what the UK was doing—as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, put it, do we mean business? Yes, we do. We have supported the development of civil society in Zimbabwe through a huge number of programmes designed to help those working for a peaceful democratic outcome. We have made a major contribution to ensuring that Zimbabwe's food shortages do not lead to famine. We have helped the EU to have the strongest common position that it has on any African country. We have led the EU's consensus to increase the size of its travel ban three times since it was first imposed. We have introduced an arms embargo. I could continue; I believe that we have done a great deal. Of course, we have to wait for the report of the Commission for Africa and we look forward to its publication.

In the short time that I have left, I shall deal with the issue of Roy Bennett, which I was asked about by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I totally agree with her. His prison treatment of hard labour is an outrage. We do not condone, as she does not, any violent behaviour, but the judgment handed down to this man—a year of hard labour—is evidence of the Government of Zimbabwe's selective and completely disproportionate application of justice.

Roy Bennett has been banned from standing in the March parliamentary elections. Zimbabwean law forbids those imprisoned by courts from standing. However, we would point out that Bennett was imprisoned by parliament, not the courts. MDC is appealing the decision and Mr Bennett's wife is courageously standing until the court rules. We continue actively to raise his imprisonment with the Government of Zimbabwe. I was asked how we do that. We raise it in line with other examples of human rights abuses. The British ambassador raises our concerns regularly and, more recently, Mr Mullin called in the Zimbabwean ambassador to protest strongly about the continued abuses by Zimbabwe's government. We will continue to react strongly.

I am out of time. I will write to noble Lords on the questions that I have not answered.

5.21 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, if I thanked everyone individually, I should have to make another speech and that, I am afraid, is not allowed. So I shall merely say that I am deeply grateful to everyone who has spoken; noble Lords have contrived to produce all the different facets of the problems of Zimbabwe.

I would like to leave with the Minister two questions on which I should be happy to receive written replies. First, how much money have we succeeded, under those famous EU sanctions, in confiscating from ZANU-PF's little funds abroad? Secondly, when the AU, yet again, blocked the discussion in the General Assembly, have we said to it, "No more business, no more help, no more anything, until you allow Zimbabwe to be discussed"?

I thank everyone and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.