– in the House of Lords at 6:40 pm on 6th March 2002.

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Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 6:40 pm, 6th March 2002

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

My Lords, I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to open the debate. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for what he said about my interest in Zimbabwe.

We have had several debates on this subject in recent times, but none has been more timely than this one. The Commonwealth, as we would all agree, faces an extremely serious crisis that goes to its credibility, value and influence, all of which are at risk. The crisis has been developing for at least two years since the referendum which Mr Mugabe lost. That was followed by elections in 2000 that were marked by violence, intimidation and fraud, in which 35 members of the opposition were killed. That election was attended by several teams of international observers, all of whom returned critical reports.

That was followed by a visit from the International Bar Association, which sent an extremely high powered delegation of senior judges and lawyers, all of whom came from the Commonwealth except one who was from the United States. In their judgment the rule of law had been breached and democracy itself was in danger.

It is unfortunate that no country took any action to show the world's disapproval, apart from the United Kingdom, which withdrew the British military training team, although I do not think that that amounted to much more than a slap on the wrist in Mr Mugabe's view. In view of that inaction, is it surprising that the violence and intimidation in 2000 has turned into a real reign of terror, directed at all people of all races in Zimbabwe who are not supporters of ZANU-PF?

We are familiar with the sad litany of tortures, rapes, beatings and murders. There have been 150 murders of supporters of the MDC in the past two years—31 this year, which is one almost every second day. That is accompanied, naturally, by economic disaster, which has already been referred to, mass unemployment, inflation of more than 100 per cent, falling GDP and even shortages of food.

Mr Mugabe has at times promised free elections and then intensified the terror. He has said that observers can come freely from any source, but he now says that some cannot come. The Abuja agreement, to which his government agreed, he treated with contempt within a couple of weeks.

It is inconceivable that the elections can be free and fair. The whole state machine is directed to ensuring that they are not free and fair and the electoral system is being turned round for that purpose even this week. Yesterday Mr Mugabe issued an edict to reinstate laws to make vote rigging easier and to restrict scrutiny by election monitors of voting and the counting of votes. The law that he reinstated by edict was struck out last week by the Supreme Court because it had been rushed through Parliament illegally.

Postal votes are available only to the army and the police. Mr Mugabe's henchmen are seizing the identity cards from people who are not supporters of ZANU-PF and, of course, without such cards they cannot vote. The army, which has its hands on the diamonds and the timber of the Congo, along with Mr Mugabe himself, has said that it will not accept the result unless Mr Mugabe is declared the winner. It has the support of the Registrar General, curiously enough, the returning officer for the election, who said something similar. The object of all this is that were Mr Mugabe to lose the election he would at least win the vote.

On 7th March last year—coincidentally almost exactly a year ago—we on this side of the House complained about the Government's lack of action. We had complained before, but we made a particular point of it in that debate. The lack of action continued almost to the end of 2001. Late in the year, the Government proposed smart sanctions and it was only on 8th January this year that the Foreign Secretary talked about suspension. For two years the Government have shown a striking lack of grip on this problem. They have woken up almost two years too late, and the delay has helped to lead to the crisis that we are now facing. It has allowed Mr Mugabe to think that he could step up the campaign of terror with impunity.

There has also been an extraordinary failure on the part of the Commonwealth to take action under the declaration on terrorism. It was first made not at Coolum but on 25th October last year. It says that any country that has anything to do with terrorism, including instigating terrorism,

"should have no place in the Commonwealth".

If what is happening in Zimbabwe is not terrorism, what is it?

I was interested in the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who I am sorry to say is not in her place, on 13th February. She asked whether the Minister was aware,

"as I understand from sources about which I have informed the Foreign Secretary—that President Mugabe's government now regard the threats from the EU and the Commonwealth as empty hot air".—[Official Report, 13/2/02; col. 1096.]

It is puzzling why the Government have remained inactive for so long and until very recently. Did they persuade themselves that for the United Kingdom to speak out or to act would give Mr Mugabe the opportunity to attack us for trying to reimpose colonialism? The reality is that Mr Mugabe was attacking us anyway, even when we were doing nothing about which he could reasonably complain. The Government have had the worst of both worlds. My information is that Zimbabweans in general do not take Mr Mugabe's allegations about this country's post-colonial activities or intentions at all seriously. If Her Majesty's Government had rallied the European Union to act earlier and with us, is it not possible that that might have reduced the number of beatings, rapes, murders and torture that has occurred? It might possibly even have discouraged such blatant rigging of the election, at least to some extent. I wonder whether the Government's hesitancy is due to the party's post-colonial guilt.

It is a great sadness that Mr Thabo Mbeki, who could have had a decisive influence in this matter, has not exercised it as he might have done. South Africa's hand is on the jugular of Zimbabwe, by reasons of geography. Mr Mbeki has expressed criticism from time to time but then in the next breath he criticises those who criticise Mr Mugabe. I find his lukewarm attitude a puzzle. As has already been said, the situation is doing enormous damage to South Africa's economy. The rand has plunged; investment is slumping; and there are millions of refugees from Zimbabwe in South Africa. Those problems are hitting the whole of southern Africa. It is a puzzle why Mr Mbeki does not condemn the man who has dealt a serious blow to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which Mr Mbeki himself did so much to promote.

The Government's main proposal at Coolum was the suspension of Zimbabwe. That suspension, as we know, was not accepted. I suspect that that was partly because some of the heads of government were reluctant to vote against a man whom they regard as an African hero of the liberation struggle—I mean Mr Mugabe. That is how they would express it. Could some of their reluctance be due to nervousness of setting a precedent which might be relevant in other areas? It is interesting that the principal African spokesmen who have spoken out against Mr Mugabe are Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, who rather charmingly described Mr Mugabe as "bonkers", and Kofi Annan, whom such a precedent would not affect.

There is no doubt that the Government got their timing wrong as regards the proposal for suspension. Mr Mugabe had cleverly arranged for the election to be held just after the heads of government meeting. It is clear that significant numbers of the heads of government felt that it was inappropriate to suspend a member country a few days before an election to be observed by teams of observers including Commonwealth observers. If you say that the accused is guilty before the trial, why do you need a trial?

I believe that the Government could have usefully proposed something like the Canadian proposal—I believe that is where it came from—that the three heads of government should form a committee after the election results have been judged by the observers and decide what steps should be taken. Or, could not the Government have put a proposal to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which now has power to suspend or reinstate countries? Could they not have chosen some more appropriate time than the week before an election to make their proposal?

Noble Lords will wish the noble Baroness who is to reply to say—I too congratulate her on the role she has played—what teams of observers, so far as she can tell, are expected to be in Zimbabwe, how many Mr Mugabe has agreed to accept, how long they will be there and where they will come from. I hope that she will say something more about the composition and the timetable of the Commonwealth observer team on whose report the three heads of government will make their decision.

The principles of the Commonwealth as stated in the Harare Declaration of 1991 include the following words:

"The individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives".

It further states that the principles include,

"the rule of law and independence of the judiciary . . . fundamental human rights including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief".

Zimbabwe is miles away from approaching those principles. If Mr Mugabe is declared to have won and the election is not free and fair, and the Commonwealth does not take firm action, I pose the following questions. First, what will be the prospects for the New Partnership for Africa's Development, to which so many governments rightly attach importance? Walter Kansteiner, the assistant Secretary of State at the State Department in Washington, recently said—I believe rightly—

"The road to NePAD lies through Harare".

That is worth thinking through. Secondly, in the situation I have described, what will the Commonwealth be worth? I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour 6:53 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on raising this topic. However, I have to say that I did not agree with him when he said that the debate was timely. I had looked forward to hearing what he had to say, especially as regards the future. However, I regret that what I heard was a rehash of every debate we have had on Zimbabwe over the past 18 months to two years; that is, comments on sanctions on Zimbabwe and expelling Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth full stop.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition in this House, complained that we had spent too much time trying to influence the position by discussion and debate. How else are we to influence what happens in Zimbabwe? I happen to think that the situation in Zimbabwe is extremely dangerous and is likely to become more so. I do not think that anything we say in advance of the weekend's elections will make one wit of difference to the outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said again that he wanted sanctions. At every meeting I have attended with the Movement for Democratic Change—as have many other noble Lords—and with the most recent delegations from Zimbabwe of what I believe is called the civil crisis committee, every member of those delegations has said, "Please, we do not want sanctions. What we want are discussions and the opportunity to go ahead and win the election". We cannot act unilaterally against the wishes of those people in Zimbabwe. We either believe that the Movement for Democratic Change is a valid organisation, that the crisis committee, which represents the civic organisations of Zimbabwe, is telling us the truth or we simply say, "Look, we in London know best. We do not care what you say. We know best". There is a hint of that running through our discussions.

In discussion on the Statement there was mention of a mass flight of white refugees from Zimbabwe. I was in Zimbabwe at the time of the independence celebrations. At that time you could not get a flight out of Zimbabwe for three months. They were solidly booked for three months. I went to the airport, having pulled every string to get back to the House of Commons for a three-line Whip and having been told that there was no possibility of getting a flight as they were solidly booked. There was a huge waiting list and I was 420th on the list for a flight out of Harare. However, I got on the plane and discovered that it was one-third full. People naturally in those circumstances will hedge their bets. To blow the matter out of proportion does no one any good.

The situation is clear. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe and that every attempt has been made to achieve a particular result. One reads in the press that no one knows how many polling stations there will be or who is on the electoral roll. Of course, that situation is serious. Still the MDC believes that it has an opportunity to win the election. We are in grave danger of reaching a position where we have decided that we know what the result of the election will be and we shall not accept it. We shall not accept the result of the election in Zimbabwe unless Morgan Tsvangirai wins it. What shall we do if the observers in Zimbabwe say, "Yes, there was violence. Yes, there was intimidation. Mr Mugabe has won the election, but despite all the defects in the election it is a valid result"? What shall we do then? Shall we send in a gunboat?

The Leader of the Opposition in the Commons got close to saying that the Americans, the European Union and Britain should take all necessary steps to sort out the situation in Zimbabwe. What does he mean? Does he mean sending in troops? Is that what he has in mind? If that is the position which is to be espoused, either overtly or tacitly, how on earth do we expect the countries in the region to listen to us and to take positive action?

If the election is "won"—I put that in inverted commas—by President Mugabe, and if something has to be done to get him to accept the result, I believe that the only people who can bring that about are the countries close to hand—the people of South Africa, the people of Namibia and the people of Mozambique. Sam Nujoma, the President of Namibia and Thabo Mbeki go back a long way as regards the liberation struggle, but we have to get them on our side. We have to get them to work with us. I detect that the whole issue of Zimbabwe, serious though it is, is being grossly magnified. I say "grossly magnified" in the following sense. I understand that people who appear on television and in radio programmes are pushed into taking stances and are not really certain of what they have said. For example, the foreign affairs spokesperson of the MDC has said that if President Mugabe steals that body's election win there will be a bloodbath.

One of the senior MDC spokesmen in Harare was recently reported in The Times as having said,

"If President Mugabe steals our election win, we cannot hold back the people".

I hope that is not the case. Africa is littered with the bodies of innocents who have suffered because election results have not been accepted. It would be extremely dangerous for us to paint a picture of absolute chaos and mayhem on an extravagant scale.

I certainly have no optimism as to what the future may hold. However, I say that President Mugabe has an awesome responsibility, especially if he loses the election, to accept the result. It may be that steps will need to be taken in discussions to put in place some sort of transitional government to bring about a change. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is certain that Zimbabwe will need an enormous amount of help. In that regard, there is perhaps a case to be made for a carrot and stick.

Instead of being wholly condemnatory of ZANU-PF and instead of saying that everything is black and white, that there will never be an acceptable result and that we are bound to have confusion and army rule, we should perhaps use carefully-chosen words to indicate that we are dealing with a volatile situation and are prepared to act with the people of Zimbabwe and the people of South Africa to bring about the change that is necessary and an acceptance of the result, whatever it may be. Otherwise, I fear that we would be excluded from influence, and that would be the most dangerous position of all.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 7:02 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that it would be a very sad position for Britain to lose its influence. However, I found the rest of his speech very much at odds with the words already spoken by the Prime Minister and with the Statement repeated earlier today. The Prime Minister struck a very much more robust tone about Mr Mugabe than did the noble Lord. I again declare my interest, having a member of my family in Zimbabwe.

I begin with a note of criticism of the noble Baroness. Although she has done an amazing amount of hard work, when her feet return to the ground in this country, will she please provide Written Answers to some of the questions that I have posed? It is almost impossible to prepare for a debate such as today's without having those answers.

I speak with sadness for the people of Zimbabwe, some of whom have been incredibly courageous and have put their lives on the line in order to make a stand for democracy.

Let us consider briefly the rural workers. The Commercial Farmers' Union has conducted a survey of 1,862 farms, which indicates that permanent workers employed by its members on 1st January 2001 and 31st December 2001 totalled 119,304 and 105,164 respectively. During the year the total number of that category of workers decreased by nearly 12 per cent. Farmers employ seasonal workers who usually reside in close proximity to the farms. The survey indicated an 18.5 per cent reduction in the number employed in that category, 21,240 people having been affected. The number of workers retrenched over the same period totalled 23,951. The survey revealed that the number of workers forced off respondents' farms amounted to 12,027. It was also interesting to note that the number of workers allocated resettlement plots on respondents' properties totalled 2,601, which is roughly two per cent of the permanent labour force. The remainder have been disenfranchised, and yesterday's decrees imposed by President Mugabe only create a greater number of people without votes. My noble friend Lord Blaker and I believe that that confirms what we had already surmised—that the election is rigged to the best of Mr Mugabe's ability.

I turn to the young children of Zimbabwe and give an example of a recent event at Lilfordia School, when it staged its annual Three Woods cross-country meeting. The 650 mixed-rate athletes were in their running kits when the mob turned up. They were disturbed by the number of adults. There was a mini-invasion force comprising elements of the police, the army, the CIO and the War Veterans' Association. They came to the conclusion beyond reasonable doubt that the cross-country meeting of those young children had been an elaborate cover for a political rally. They further added that the cricket and tennis matches that had been played that morning had also been a ploy to disguise another such meeting. A lady spokesperson for the War Veterans' Association told the school that the local police must be forewarned of any functions taking place at Lilfordia, which would be likely to attract adult attendance, and that all visitors to the school must be specifically directed not to wave with open hands to people on the roadside during the course of their journey. What a terrible example to set for young children.

It is not surprising that some young children who have been subjected to that sort of interference in their education have turned out to be youths for whom, with unemployment at 60 per cent, inflation at 116 per cent and roughly 500,000 people at risk of starvation, joining a terror team and meting out extortion, intimidation and violence against anyone one chooses could be an attractive option in life. There appears to be nothing to lose. There can be no doubt that Mugabe has engendered a climate of fear and terror. It has happened previously; in the mid-1980s he murdered over 10,000 of the Ndebele tribe. There has been terror at every election, but this one is worse than usual.

Even if Morgan Tsvangirai wins, the future is bleak. The economy is in tatters, debt is mounting, and the armed forces seem loyal to Mugabe. If he wins, Morgan Tsvangirai will have much to prove. Let us not forget history. Frederick Chibula of Zambia, another charismatic Labour leader, like Mr Tsvangirai, promised a liberal economy and democracy but was breathtakingly corrupt when he came to power. If Mugabe wins, may we expect another Tiananmen Square? I fear that Mr Mugabe has led us all a merry dance for far too long.

We cannot dictate what he should do, and we are in no position to do so. The European Union has finally invoked smart sanctions, advocated by some of us for many months before the Government finally realised that that was the right step to take. Will the noble Baroness say how much has been seized in this country? Has Mr Mugabe's property, a house in London and, allegedly, an estate in Scotland been seized? How much money has left the United Kingdom from those being targeted with those smart sanctions since the announcement?

I turn briefly to the Commonwealth conference. It was a real disaster that the Commonwealth did not act. I understand the point made by my noble friend Lord Blaker that the timing of the election this weekend made it very difficult for some. However, it appears that the Commonwealth is prepared to take action against every non-African country but fudges the issue so far as Africa is concerned. As a result, it has lost much credibility, and, unless the troika act, if Mr Mugabe wins and the observers say that there has been unfair intimidation, it will lose all credibility. When will the troika of the three wise men meet, will they have to report to the heads of government, and when will action be taken?

I turn briefly to the media. Will the noble Baroness tell us what support the Government are giving to SW Radio Africa, which, in the few weeks it has been on air, has received much commendation for its impartial and precise service?

These are difficult times for the Zimbabweans. Our hearts go out to them this coming weekend. They are under huge pressure from a bully, a thug, who has used intimidation, terror and violence mercilessly to try to achieve his own ends. We have no European Union observers there; we have to wait for the reports of other people. Let us hope for better times for Zimbabwe.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop 7:10 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing real fellow feeling for and sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in view of the danger of his family being immediately involved in the crisis.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, to whom I am grateful for initiating this debate, quoted the American diplomat who asked: will the future of NePAD need to go through Harare? Whether or not it goes through Harare, it will certainly have to go beyond Harare. What do I mean?

As has already been mentioned in the Statement repeated by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and as mentioned by other noble Lords, last month—this is well known from the press—the British Prime Minister visited west Africa in order to support a document known as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NePAD. I understand that that deal has emerged slowly over the past two years. I also understand that it was with discreet British help that South Africa took the lead in drafting that document. Nigeria and Algeria supported it and, last year, the deal was presented—I gather with success—to the African Union. That new partnership for African development commits African leaders to better governance, stopping the continent's wars, spending less on guns, spending more on education and health, allowing the free market and private enterprise to flourish, fighting corruption, inspecting human rights and holding free and fair elections.

In an important article that recently appeared in the Tablet, the writer points out that those commitments have now become African commitments, signed up to by some 16 governments. The further message that the Prime Minister took to Africa, in the context of that document, was that if those commitments are carried out in future—and in the present—he will seek to persuade the other leaders of the G8 countries to give Africa a better deal on aid, debt relief and access to markets.

I am trying to look beyond Harare, not simply at it. The same writer in the Tablet also wrote:

"The best thing about Blair's vision for Africa is that it leaves Africa's destiny in Africa's hands".

There has been very welcome talk not so much about aid to Africa as about investment in Africa. The writer then added the punchline:

"But if Mugabe wins, solidarity among Africa's rulers will have prevailed over democracy and human rights. Mr Blair will be left looking foolish and humiliated by his African allies".

Dare I briefly offer a different conclusion? Whatever the outcome of the present crisis in Zimbabwe, I urge the Government, with respect, to continue to hold fast to the kind of vision that NePAD represents—a New Partnership for Africa's Development, which already involves 16 African nations. That is why I am encouraged by the fact that today's newspapers report that the Prime Minister is still saying, even in the face of this crisis, "I am passionate about helping Africa".

More than 20 years ago, I witnessed some of Uganda's darkest hours. I lived there. I have just returned from a Uganda in which primary school enrolment is up from 2.9 million to 6.5 million, in which clinics and health centres are steadily expanding into rural areas—I visited one in Mitiyana—and in which there has been, for two years now, a steady and consistent drop in the number of recorded AIDS infections. Dare I say, both to the British and French Governments, who are behind NePAD, "Go on being passionate about helping Africa"? Take heart. If Uganda can emerge from chaos, so even can Zimbabwe. I offer an old African proverb, which—I translate—puts the matter this way:

"The person who perseveres slowly will win the prize".

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 7:15 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for initiating this important debate. I, too, declare an interest: I have family in Zimbabwe. I also have many friends, black and white—the black ones date back to the days of resistance.

Time is running out. We are about to be faced, in Zimbabwe, with one of two equally critical and dangerous situations. In one, Mugabe, having disqualified voters, rigged the ballot and terrorised the population, will win or will claim to have done so. There are no EU observers and, for reasons of face, the African members of the Commonwealth will probably recognise his victory. No one will wait for the Commonwealth observers—still pitifully few—to report whatever they find. The ZANU-PF strategy has all along been to rig the election and then negotiate with the international community for recognition. But it will also feel free to destroy what remains of the opposition, who will be left to its mercy, and the people of Zimbabwe know that. They remember the 11,000 people—his political rivals—who Mugabe slaughtered in Matabeleland after he came to power, using the notorious North Korean trained Fifth Brigade. The world did nothing then. The people may feel, with justice, that unless they challenge Mugabe at once they are lost. They can expect nothing but a tightening of the chains. There may therefore be a serious deterioration in the security situation, if not outright civil war.

The other possibility—miracles do happen—is that the MDC wins. In that case, however, Mugabe, having bought the army, may declare martial law. The military leaders have already said that they will not accept anything but a verdict for Mugabe. Either way, I fear that we must expect some degree of serious disorder, civil disturbances and—certainly—social and economic collapse. The country is only just holding on. There will be refugees and there will be famine, and that will immediately affect the stability of at least five other African countries. There is now a widespread famine in Malawi, attributed largely to the fact that no maize is coming from Zimbabwe, which was hitherto the breadbasket of the area, and which itself will soon be starving because the regime's brave young veterans have been for the past year burning the maize crops and forbidding farmers to plant. The press is at last reporting on the true situation and is leaving us in no doubt of the monstrous nature of Mugabe's regime. That is killing for good, I hope, the comforting notion, so long held by many in this country, that this is all about a handful of white farmers sitting on land, and therefore something which, for fear of seeming colonialist, we can ignore and treat—in the famous phrase of a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, speaking of paramilitary violence against their own community—as "a little domestic housekeeping". What is happening in Zimbabwe is far more like Hitler's unchecked proceedings in Europe—unchecked because everyone so badly wanted to believe him when he said that each awful act was to be the last. Abuja was Mugabe's Munich—and ours.

The British Government have, at long last—thanks to the courage and the clear-sighted approach of the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth conference, which I welcome most warmly—recognised publicly that there is a terrible and immediate threat to the whole of southern Africa and that there must be action. He will have realised through his recent travels in Africa that the continent is a seamless robe. The fate of the DRC, with its boundless riches, its chaotic violence and its power to destabilise, is linked to Angola and Zimbabwe as well as to the Great Lakes and Uganda. Many of the international crooks, diamond smugglers and money launderers who work for Kabila and Mugabe also work for Al'Qaeda. The same arms dealers work for Zimbabwe and the Taliban. Mugabe's pillage of his country's assets has been on a far greater scale than that of Milosevic.

One of the most powerful figures in Africa today is President Gaddafi of Libya. Only too many African heads of state have been subsidised by him. He has a considerable voice in the OAU and calls himself the head of the so-called African Union. It is he who has made Mugabe significant loans to buy fuel, has sent him Libyan advisers and has been given land, control of various Zimbabwean enterprises and, not least, substantial numbers of Zimbabwean passports. Gaddafi's influence on South African policy also cannot be discounted. The ANC has a debt of honour to Libya for support and training in the days of its exile. Libya was the first country that President Mandela visited. Perhaps it is not too late for Gaddafi to be discreetly enlisted as the one man who could influence Mugabe to settle for a peaceful withdrawal; after all, we have given him plenty of time to move his money and evade the so-called "smart sanctions".

The world must act now. I am not asking for sanctions. I say that it is useless to wait for a supine Commonwealth, whose only test for membership appears to be free and fair elections, to declare that perhaps all was not quite right but go on to say that, as there is now a new elected government in Zimbabwe, we should all do business with it. If we end up with Mugabe and his cronies back in power, it will be relatively pointless to curtail their shopping trips and close a few doors to a few individuals.

Under Mugabe, this is, and will be, a terrorist regime, which brings in the North Koreans and the Libyans to help them to murder and to plunder their own citizens. But it is not only that. By its destruction of one of the few viable and flourishing economies in the area, by its extensive illegal international fiscal and economic operations, by its destabilisation of the whole of southern Africa, with repercussions northwards as far as Malawi, the DRC and Angola, it can bring down most of the continent. The country that will suffer most and which holds out, with Zimbabwe until recently, the best hope of prosperity and stability for so many, is South Africa. We must work with the Americans now, with the EU and with the World Bank to bring the African countries, especially South Africa, to understand the danger and see Mugabe not simply as a fellow African leader but as a serious threat to their own survival. They have not yet understood this, and they are sticking their heads in the sand. I fear that we should not consider them only as representatives of their peoples; they are also representatives of their own personal interests.

I urge the Government to think not only of the impending humanitarian crisis, for which I am sure they are well prepared, but of the need to prevent the economic collapse of much of the continent. We cannot wait for the Commonwealth and the EU and there has been a loud silence from the UN, apart from Kofi Annan, despite the UNDP's active part in the donors' conference of 1998. It is vital that we give heart now to the MDC to show it that Zimbabwe is not going to be abandoned the day after the election, whichever way it goes. This is a country which, apart from Mugabe, has long forgotten race. They are all Zimbabweans, as the Prime Minister has recognised. They have the common aim of restoring their country to peace and prosperity. That will include some land reform, but with the aim of enabling more black Zimbabweans to operate commercially viable farms rather than subsistence farming. This has long been the policy of the farmers themselves. Mugabe has preferred looting and destruction.

I repeat that we must act now before the election, not after it, to build a coalition of the willing with the African states so that Zimbabwe can regain its freedom. We must persuade them that it is in their best interests to recognise that the economic collapse of a neighbour will also destroy them in the end. Moreover, state terrorism has a habit of spilling over frontiers. Not least, we must be seen to offer sanctuary, especially in the first dangerous days. We must not send Zimbabwe citizens back. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance on that.

Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 7:23 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for introducing this most topical debate appropriately between the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and the forthcoming presidential election this weekend. Rather than repeat the many points that I and other noble Lords made during the previous debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, I should like to share some of my observations after a recent trip to South Africa, from which I returned last week.

I was fortunate enough to meet a number of Zimbabwean businessmen, trade union leaders and politicians, including several previous Ministers of President Mugabe's cabinet, as well as a number of farmers. In addition, I was able to meet a number of leading journalists in South Africa. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, I believe that it is vital that the future of Zimbabwe is to a large degree dictated by the countries in southern Africa.

I should like to eat my words as regards one of the comments I made in my previous speech. I said then that, in my opinion, this forthcoming election would be a non-event and that, if President Mugabe were re-elected, there would inevitably be civil war in Zimbabwe. I do not believe that to be the case. I should like to outline some of the reasons why I have reached that conclusion. Clearly, the elections will neither be free nor fair. It is inevitable that they will be rigged and, as much as possible, rigged to favour President Mugabe being re-elected.

I turn to the opinion of many very-informed insiders both in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, including Dennis Norman, who is known by several noble Lords. He was the Minister responsible for agriculture in President Mugabe's cabinet just seven years ago. He believes that the MDC will win. Further, in his view, the MDC will get over 75 per cent of the vote. He says that it is highly unlikely that Morgan Tsvangirai will be declared the winner. He believes that the best result from a rigged election would be a government of national unity in which he believes the natural heir apparent is Simba Makoni, the current Minister of Finance—or, perhaps I should say the current Minister without Finance—in Zimbabwe. In his opinion, President Mugabe will be phased out within a three to six-month period.

The problem is not just about President Mugabe; it is more about his so-called "cronies", who head up the military, the police and the civil service. For decades, they have been plundering and pillaging the country's rich resources. They are scared of having the many skeletons in the cupboard exposed. Moreover, the problem is not just about land reform—I was pleased to note that, in his Statement on the Commonwealth Head of Government meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed that Her Majesty's Government are committed to land reform in Zimbabwe—it is more a matter of corruption and misinformation.

The real problem is food. Whoever wins the forthcoming election will be faced with a massive food crisis, which is unlikely to be alleviated within a 12 to 18-month period, even in the best case scenario. Despite the Zimbabwe Government's assurances, the country is almost out of food. When I say "food", I mean that there is no milk, no sugar and certainly no eggs. If Mugabe loses and declares himself to be a winner, I say that there will be a double crisis. However, if the MDC wins, Zimbabwe will be less politically stable and still faced with a food crisis.

President Thabo Mbeki's preferred option is similar to that of Dennis Norman; namely, a government of national unity. Even though Mbeki has been more outspoken over the past few months, there is no doubt that South Africa's policy of quiet diplomacy has not worked. But South Africa needs a stable neighbour and certainly fears a massive influx of Zimbabweans into the country. It is estimated—this is an arguable figure—that there are almost 2 to 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa today. That equates to almost 15 per cent of the Zimbabwe electorate. Most of those people would naturally vote MDC, and almost all of them have been disqualified from voting in the forthcoming election.

Of the eight recognised election observer missions, two are from South Africa—one representing the business community and the other representing politicians from all political parties. There are also two missions from SADC, including a representation of the Church missions. It is well known that these observer missions are almost powerless: they came too late, and, to a large degree, are now being obstructed by government officials and youth brigades from effectively monitoring the run-up to this weekend's elections.

In my opinion Mugabe is gripped by paranoia. He knows that he is likely to lose and I believe that he is looking for an escape route. His trumped-up charges of treason against Morgan Tsvangirai and senior members of the MDC are farcical. Furthermore, his claims that the MDC stands for recolonising Zimbabwe backed by Britain and the US are equally ludicrous. He thought that he would have enough food and, through intimidation, would bribe and force the people of Zimbabwe to vote ZANU-PF. That has backfired on him. The reality is that he is in panic mode.

However, apart from the state-sponsored violence, what concerns me is that the state-controlled television and radio are the only source of news for most of the rural population and are presenting Mr Mugabe as a liberation hero and Mr Tsvangirai as a terrorist and a tea boy for the country's whites and for European powers.

I have always advocated African solutions for African problems. There is no doubt that the recently-announced EU smart sanctions have been effective and a smart move, in that they have managed to split much of the Zimbabwe cabinet. What is critical now is that the international community, not just the Commonwealth, needs a co-ordinated action plan against Zimbabwe if the elections are proven not to have been free and fair.

I was not surprised that there were no sanctions imposed at the recent Commonwealth meeting. Southern Africa is going through momentous times, the big issues being Zimbabwe, Angola, the DRC and AIDS. With the recent death of Jonas Savimbi in Angola, this may be the catalyst for ending the 27-year stalemate in Angola. I sincerely believe that now Mr Mugabe's 22-year rule is coming to an end. We live in hope.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative 7:32 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Blaker that it is inconceivable that the Zimbabwe elections can be free and fair. Despite the presence of foreign observers—not nearly enough—Mr Mugabe is blatantly rigging the electoral process using the police, the army, the judicial system and the national press. Horrific human rights abuses continue to be perpetrated against members of the opposition, with Mugabe's thugs roaming the countryside, beating and torturing anyone whose allegiance to the 78 year-old despot is in question. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, it is a volatile situation.

Some Commonwealth governments have behaved strangely, to say the least, during these awful events. I believe that the Commonwealth will now have to ask itself a number of difficult questions. Sadly, the perception is that Commonwealth leaders, particularly some African statesmen, are condoning these heinous crimes. We witnessed their support of President Mugabe at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia. Do they really believe in democracy? What kind of message is that sending to Mr Mugabe? Why is a statesman such as President Obasanjo of Nigeria failing to speak out against President Mugabe when he, himself, was incarcerated in his own country by a despotic regime which was renowned for its human rights atrocities? As my noble friend Lord Blaker said, it is a puzzle that President Mbeki of South Africa chose to remain silent on the crimes being committed in Zimbabwe when he knows that it is his country which will pay the highest price for siding with Mr Mugabe. What will he do with thousands of starving Zimbabwean refugees flooding over the border into South Africa? What will he say to his electorate when Zimbabweans take South African jobs?

I welcome the Minister back from Australia and congratulate her on her important role. From her experiences there, can she give the House any insight into why some African statesmen club together to oppose the pressure from democratic countries in the West when they question Zimbabwe's good governance record?

Those statesmen happily propose Africa joining the global economy by asking for support for initiatives such as the NePAD, led primarily by Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo. Do they not see that in order for the West to support those kind of initiatives, it is necessary to adhere to good governance and democratic principles?

In January, SADC's heads of state in Malawi also issued a statement of solidarity with the Zimbabwean president; a man who is responsible for the terrible killings in Matabeleland in the 1980s, let alone the killing of hundreds of opposition supporters in the run-up to this election. They want African problems to be resolved by Africans, as Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe's infamous Minister of Information, reminded us in Australia where he also told our Prime Minister to "shut up".

That is the same man who is being investigated by the FBI for fraud after he misappropriated funds belonging to the Ford Foundation in Kenya. He not only had to leave Nairobi in a hurry, but soon after also Johannesburg, where he had been accused of similar misdemeanours when working at a university. He then sought the refuge of Mugabe's patronage and turned from being one of his fiercest critics into one of his most loyal lieutenants.

Mr Moyo is also responsible for the draconian Access to Information Bill, which he recently tried to bulldoze through the Zimbabwean Parliament to block independent and foreign journalists from witnessing the horrific violence being perpetrated on the ground. The Act was an attempt to play out his personal vendetta with the independent media, in particular those papers which have highlighted his fraudulent activity, such as the Daily News and the Zimbabwe Standard. For all his efforts in destroying press freedom in Zimbabwe, Mr Moyo has now been given a huge property in the Eastern Highlands, one of the country's leading tourist areas.

I mention that because here is a perfect illustration of genuine African problems: corruption and a general disregard for democratic principles. If Africa wants to become part of the global economy, it must show the same respect for the principles that govern other countries in the global village. Walter Kansteiner, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, understood the regional consequences of the meltdown of Zimbabwe when he pointed out that the road to NePAD is through Harare.

The way in which Mr Mugabe's regime has toyed with international opinion and organisations leads me, I am afraid, to the conclusion that the ability to provide financial aid and support is one of the few remaining bargaining chips we have with governments of that ilk. We must now make it clear that the kind of aid anticipated by NePAD is dependent on recipient governments demonstrating a return to good governance and an acceptance of the will of democracy. Clearly, we must ensure as much as possible that aid reaches those innocent people most in need without being commandeered by government militia.

It is imperative that we send the strongest possible signal to the SADC countries that they should take action against the man who threatens to plunge the entire region into a catastrophic economic and political meltdown. All democratic nations have a responsibility to try and preserve democracy wherever it is threatened.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 7:40 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, who has done us a service in persistently raising this issue. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord St John for alerting Cross-Bench Peers in particular last week to this very worrying aspect of the crisis; namely, the food shortages that he has already mentioned.

It is well known that food shortages are becoming so critical that the word "famine" is no longer being used casually. The UN has estimated that over half a million face severe hunger as food stocks are exhausted. Months of drought have left parched fields in many areas, especially in Matabeleland.

This crisis affects the entire southern African region, although South Africa still has surpluses. The World Food Programme says that it is currently feeding 2.4 million in the region as a whole, more than half of them in Zambia, and the numbers could easily rise if the April harvest is as poor as forecast.

Since the World Food Programme was stepped up in Zimbabwe in October, the general food supply situation has worsened considerably, with many families unable to purchase maize, cooking oil, sugar, beans and other basic commodities. To date, the WFP has not received the level of financial assistance required to run its operation. It has been able to source only some 25 per cent of what it asked for. I hope that the Minister will comment not only on the UK contribution to the World Food Programme, but the extent to which she believes that the international community outside Zimbabwe is aware of the impending crisis.

Currently maize stocks are dangerously low. I understand that Zimbabwe has a national requirement of between 150,000 and 200,000 tonnes of maize a month but that the Government have so far purchased only 20,000 tonnes for the coming month. Lack of transport and foreign exchange and other demands on South Africa make it unlikely that regional capacity can match either this schedule or the expected demand.

Food shortages have also had a negative impact on the work of the NGOs, such as the Save the Children Fund. Its interventions often depend on people's ability to purchase food which is now unavailable. Meanwhile, the price of maize has doubled from 22 Zimbabwean dollars per kilo last October to 44 Zimbabwean dollars in February, forcing thousands more into emergency feeding programmes.

Two weeks ago the WFP and World Vision began distributing one month's ration of maize meal in Gwanda district, which is one of the worse hit areas of Matabeleland. However, this and other distributions have been suspended during the election period because of the obvious risks of violence and political interference. Food has already been an insidious weapon for the Government, as we know. Relief workers with Christian Care, which is Christian Aid's main partner in Zimbabwe, have been attacked simply for not carrying ZANU-PF cards. There were similar attacks in Bulawayo this week. The vicious tactics of the war veterans, in particular in the Chinhoyi area north of Harare, are reported in today's Guardian.

Whatever people's views on the land issue, few believe that the drought is the main cause of food shortages when the economy, as we have heard, is in ruins, inflation is over 100 per cent and so much havoc has been wrought among commercial farms. One tragedy, in my view, of Zimbabwe's redistribution land programme—which is an issue for a separate debate—is that there was never any provision to enable the farmers who had been resettled to grow feed on that land. Many of those who have been assisted by the white farmers are branded as collaborators.

The farm workers on commercial estates are often left out of account. One area of concern to NGOs in relation to the list of beneficiaries from the UN is that the commercial farm workers, despite their vulnerability and marginalisation, have not been included as recipients of food aid. A recent survey estimated that 70,000 farm workers, or one-quarter of the total employed, have been displaced by attacks on the farms. Many of these will have been further harassed by ZANU-PF, not surprisingly, for attending MDC rallies or sympathising with the opposition. I was horrified to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said on that subject.

A recent e-mail from Cathy Buckle, one of the victims of the land seizures two years ago, paints in the scene in Maschonaland East, which is a contested area east of Harare. She said:

"This entire week there has been no cooking oil, milk or refined maize meal in Marondera. The queue outside our town's Grain Marketing Depot was 250 strong on Monday morning. It took two of my friends 5 hours to get to the front of the line where they had to fill in a form with all their personal details before they were allowed to buy a 50kg bag of unground maize.

A couple of days later there was no queue as the grain had completely run out and the government helicopters clattered overhead, taking the President to political rallies in Manicaland".

Some aid agencies are concerned that the country, let alone being able to recover its lost food surpluses, no longer has the capacity to mount the kind of relief operation which was carried out, for example, during the drought of 1992-93. There is an urgent need to begin planning for such a contingency.

The logistics, procurement and distribution mechanisms have still not been worked out. The NGOs, the UN and other donors, local authorities and relevant government departments need to come together now if Zimbabwe is to avoid widespread starvation later this year. Can the noble Baroness say to what extent her department is prepared and has begun to plan for such a calamity?

Children are of course especially at risk. I know that the DfID is already in close contact with the specialised NGOs and is supporting a supplementary feeding programme. Can the noble Baroness give an assurance that targeted sanctions will in no way impede the work of NGOs or the process of food distribution?

I am sorry about my cough, but I have sought to present a picture of the impending food crisis, regardless of the political outcome, since it will be a major concern over the coming months at the very least. It is, of course, a supreme irony, as my noble friend has already said, that if Mr Mugabe does not win, his successors will be landed with a crisis they may be unable to manage; while if he does win, the Government's present inability to cope will simply be compounded.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 7:47 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on his persistence in raising this matter over the last few months and on the timing of the debate, even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has pointed out to us, nothing we say in this debate will alter the outcome of the elections on Saturday and Sunday.

Before turning to the elections, I wish to take up one of the themes which has run through the debate; that of NePAD which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Blaker and Lord Astor, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. It is surely important that we do not abandon NePAD on the basis of the dictum, quoted by several of your Lordships, that the road to NePAD leads through Harare. The operative word is surely "through". If Harare is a road block on the way to NePAD it should not be allowed to derail it altogether.

It becomes even more important that we use NePAD because of the formula, quoted by the Leader of the House in repeating the Statement from the Prime Minister in another place, that the essence of NePAD is the promotion of good governance and good governance comes with the whole package. So, rather than abandon NePAD, we should reinforce it as a result of the tragic experience of the people of Zimbabwe in the election period that we are talking about today.

The other theme I wish to discuss is the disastrous effects of Mr Mugabe's agricultural policy; first, the destruction of Zimbabwe's agricultural potential, and, secondly, the throwing out of work of 70,000 rural workers made destitute as a result of that policy. There is also the disenfranchisement of those workers. They will no longer be living in their constituencies and, under the rules that Mugabe has made to suit himself, they will not be allowed to vote. It is important that we give support to those workers and ensure that they are not the victims of the exercise being conducted this weekend. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and other noble Lords that it is a great mistake to assume that we can tell whether an election is free and fair only after the poll is closed.

It is obvious in the case of Zimbabwe, as it already was when we discussed the matter last December, that the conditions for free and fair elections do not exist. I must reiterate the regret I expressed then that the Commonwealth failed to undertake a preliminary assessment of the conditions or to send a signal to Mugabe of the consequences of his failure to adhere to the Harare Declaration. In that regard, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that we did not sufficiently lay on the line to Mr Mugabe how we felt about the issue and what we thought about the preparations already being made at that time.

Non-governmental organisations could have made such an assessment if we felt that we could not do so ourselves. I fully recognise that it would have been difficult for ourselves, as the former colonial power, to have made and published an assessment of the conditions under which the elections were to be held. That would probably have been counter-productive. It would have lent credence to Mr Mugabe's frequently reiterated claim that we were trying to manipulate the politics of the elections. But the assessment could have been carried out by an NGO—plenty of which were capable of doing so in the absence of the political will of the international community to act.

Irrespective of that, we have enough evidence to conclude that whatever may be the situation next week, the people cannot exercise their choice freely in the mephitic atmosphere of hatred and fear that has been created by ZANU-PF, the Central Intelligence Organisation and the so-called war veterans. The signs are extremely ominous. We have already heard that hundreds of potential voters have been struck off the register, that the electoral supervisory commission is headed by an army officer and that, although the army commander has said that he will not accept an opposition victory, the polling stations are to be run by military personnel as well as ZANU-PF loyalists and war veterans recruited by the commission. There is no pretence of impartiality.

No local monitors have yet appeared to witness the crescendo of violence in the townships and rural areas. Civil society groups are to be prohibited from monitoring the election independently under the General Laws Amendment Act, which has been mentioned, even though it was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last week. The law has now been enacted by presidential decree, showing the extent to which the rule of law has been undermined in Zimbabwe.

The Supreme Court also ruled that voters can only vote where they are registered. As noble Lords have already said, that has disenfranchised tens if not hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes by state-sponsored violence in known opposition strongholds. The head of the SADC observer mission has already condemned the violence, and members of his own team have been attacked, as were members of the South African team the week before.

In the face of all that evidence, the decision of the CHOGM to take no action until its observer mission reports in several weeks' time was incomprehensible. It did not even say that if the observer group finds that the election was not free and fair, Zimbabwe would be suspended from membership of the Commonwealth automatically, but left the matter to the unfettered discretion of its troika. The reasoning behind that bizarre decision can only be that when the observer group finds—as it must—that the election was not free and fair, the troika may nevertheless tolerate Zimbabwe's continued membership of the Commonwealth.

Mr Mugabe's attacks on business, agriculture and the media may have been designed to secure votes, but in fact, as has been said, the people know the score. They rightly blame Mugabe for the food shortages, 117 per cent inflation, dropping incomes, zooming unemployment and lack of investment in education and health. Zimbabwe was a relatively prosperous country but due to extreme mismanagement during the 22 years of one-party rule by Mugabe since independence it has fallen into an abyss of economic decline.

The voters now seem determined to seize the only chance that they will get of removing Mugabe and ZANU-PF from power. According to opinion polls, as many as 70 per cent of voters will support Mr Morgan Tsvangirai. The latest poll, by the University of Zimbabwe, shows that 60 per cent of those asked were too afraid to disclose even in confidence how they intended to vote, but of those who were prepared to say, almost two thirds said they would support the MDC and only one third Mr Mugabe. Obviously, the silent majority was likely to be even more in favour of the opposition, because those were the voters whose intentions, if revealed, would get them into trouble.

Will the observers from SADC, the Commonwealth and Norway be enough to deter ZANU-PF from engaging in the massive electoral fraud necessary to overturn such a majority? Let us be under no illusions. The regime will be unscrupulous in using whatever methods are to hand to hang on to power. Violence is likely to be used to obstruct voters in areas of known opposition support, as it has been regularly and persistently throughout the campaign. With every aspect of the poll itself in the hands of ZANU-PF, its private militias and the army there are bound to be gross and flagrant irregularities, some of which are bound to come to the notice of the observers.

Let us suppose that despite what is known about people's voting intentions, the electoral supervisory commission declares Mugabe the winner. What would be the response of the international community? Generally, we take the easy way out and accept the outcome of blatantly unfair and rigged elections, as we did with Fujimori in Peru in 2000 and as it now seems likely that we shall do with the elections on 27th December in Zambia. Will the scenario be the same in Zimbabwe, with procrastination being the thief of democracy? Will the situation be like that of Madagascar, which has had two presidents since 25th January because, even though the count was a shambles, the opposition candidate had clearly won?

The question is not whether the voters will have the courage and determination to turn up to vote on Saturday and Sunday. They have already demonstrated their spirit in the face of oppression that has reached a climax in these weeks before the presidential election, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, observed. I believe that they will do their part in ridding their country of a dictator, his terrorist supporters and his embezzling cronies. But then it will be for us—for SADC, the Organisation of African Unity, the Commonwealth, the EU and the UN—to act in support of the will of the people.

If we fail, the repercussions will be felt throughout the region, as many noble Lords have said. The result will be the starvation of millions of people not just in Zimbabwe itself but in places such as Malawi, as we saw on the "Ten o'clock News" last night. The recovery of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the health of South Africa's economy and the refugee situation in the neighbourhood and as far afield as Britain will all be adversely affected if the will of the people of Zimbabwe is subverted. We have not yet been able to persuade our friends and allies of the gravity of the situation, but we must redouble our efforts for the sake of Africa as a whole.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:58 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, we all warmly thank my noble friend Lord Blaker for bringing this issue before your Lordships' House once again and for arguing his views so eloquently in opening the debate.

I come to this issue with a mixture of sadness and anger, as I suspect do many of your Lordships. I feel sadness because we have seen a once fertile nation, full of prospects and promise, in effect destroyed. As we have heard in harrowing examples given by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, it is now reduced to starvation, pitiful queues and deprivation and destitution on a mass scale. That alone is a matter for deep sadness and wonder as to what we could have done earlier to prevent this unfolding tragedy.

I also feel sadness because I fear that the problem has dealt a terrible, immensely damaging blow to the reputation of the Commonwealth as a promoter of good governance and democracy. That is a great pity. I have always been a—I shall not overuse the word "passionate", for politicians do that too much—strong supporter of the potential of the Commonwealth. As a trans-regional network, it is very suitable for the 21st century, and it is an ideal channel through which this country—not the richest in the Commonwealth, but rich compared with many countries—could contribute effectively to the development of the poorer member states. It also provides an ideal network through which this country could develop its own interests and project its own influence in the world. There is no harm in our saying that we would like to do that.

I shall add one comment to those made during the discussion on the Statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, including the comments of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Luckily, the Commonwealth is about more than governments. Actually, the governments have made a poor fist of the whole affair, particularly in recent weeks and at Coolum. The Commonwealth is a bigger thing than mere governments; it is a massive network of non-governmental, semi-governmental and private agencies and links that run right across the world from Her Majesty the Queen down to the keenest, most eager young boy scout, girl guide or voluntary worker. It means a lot to millions of people, far more than some of the heads of state and Ministers appeared to understand, as they sat there at Brisbane, arguing about the details of trading communiqués and coming to their feeble conclusions.

I want to address three questions that have arisen from the debate. In a sense, it has been a harrowing affair, as we heard of the horrors that are going on. First, will Mugabe succeed? We shall know some of the answers to that this time next week. What we know now and have known for months—it is absurd to pretend that we do not—is that the elections will not be free and fair. Morgan Tsvangirai himself has said that the conditions do not exist in which there can be free and fair elections. We should put aside any absurd suggestion that, somehow, the elections will become free and fair over the weekend, regardless of who wins. The repressive decrees, the condoning of constitutional manoeuvrings and of violence by the forces of the state, the murders, the new devices for preventing people from voting and the absurdity, described by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of having the military, which is deeply hostile to the opposition, guarding the polling stations are all clear proof that the concept of free and fair elections has gone out the window. The pretence that it has not is merely delay and cover-up of the kind that has led us to the present situation.

If, by some miracle, the MDC wins and if, as I hope, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and others who have come back with that message of hope, are right, we must hear from the Government about the most elaborate and speedy programme of help. I hope that we and the rest of the world have already considered such a programme in anticipation of such a result so that we can help Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC with their economic plans and help them with the difficulties that they must overcome. We must see further dismantling of tariffs so that the agriculture sector can revive. We must not turn a blind eye to the sinister ZANU-PF declarations that we have already heard that they will carry on a third liberation war against the winner, if it is not Mugabe. I hope that we would be strong in our support of Mr Tsvangirai if that were to happen.

If Mr Mugabe wins—which, I fear, looks a bit more likely, whatever we have been told—what can we do? I understand the Prime Minister's disappointment. He is now calling for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, but, of course, it is much too late. That was urged months, if not years, ago. The calls for suspension came from people such as my right honourable friend Francis Maude, when he spoke on foreign affairs for my party in another place. He visited Zimbabwe frequently, at great personal risk. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is not here, but I would say to him that one must be cautious about condemning as armchair critics people who have physically involved themselves in the situation in Zimbabwe for some time. I would counsel caution in using that line of criticism of people who invested a lot in trying to help Zimbabwe before it slid into disaster.

We need a decisive coalition of forces to take action, as they should have done much sooner. The Prime Minister said this afternoon that he felt that the Government's position had been clear throughout. I think that even the Prime Minister's best friends would say that that was a little over the top. The truth is that the quiet dialogue policy was tried, and it failed. Half a billion pounds, said the Prime Minister, has been poured into Zimbabwe, with little result except the starvation about which we have heard. The European Union's efforts were humiliated; the Commonwealth's disapproval, expressed at Coolum, is extremely feeble and provides no guarantee that, if there is further intimidation and terror after the election, Zimbabwe will be removed from the Commonwealth; and the benchmarks set out by the Southern African Development Community, which, we all said, must be obeyed, have been completely ignored. None of the policies—clear or unclear—has worked; they have all failed.

An international coalition must be formed. If the Commonwealth cannot do it, if the EU cannot do it and if SADC is having difficulties, a coalition of all countries—not just western nations or richer countries— that value democracy, which is the vast majority, must be sewn together to put a ring around Mr Mugabe, if he wins, and see that he is, somehow, brought to face the fact that he must stop the ruination of his country.

Those are the immediate issues. We are having our debate right under the shadow of forthcoming events. I shall reflect a little on the geo-political aspects. There are those who say that what happens in Zimbabwe or in southern Africa generally is not mainstream to global stability and peace and that it is not in the same league as what is happening in, for example, Afghanistan. That is a short-sighted view. What has happened in Zimbabwe, in the context of the humanitarian concerns and moral standards of today's world, matters very much. The long list of murders; the endless denial of the rule of law; the harassment; the hatred; all the details that fill our e-mails day after day of the pitiful horrors of what is going on—all that is important.

Beyond that, there is the potential destabilisation of the region. The movement of refugees and immigrants will undermine the neighbouring economies. As my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth reminded us, with her usual accuracy, the economic climate has already been fatally affected. Not only has the rand fallen but investment in southern Africa has simply dried up, with disastrous results. That is a miserable starting position for NePAD. I salute the optimism of those who say that, somehow, we should make NePAD even more important, but the truth is that foreign private investment, which is crucial to the development of southern Africa, has been deterred and will not revive as long as Mr Mugabe is in power.

If, as we hope, there is victory for Mr Tsvangirai, it will not be a victory for outside governments, least of all this Government. It will be victory for the superhuman courage of Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues and for the very brave people of Zimbabwe. I pray to God that that bravery will be rewarded, but we shall live in doubt until we see the result.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:09 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, this debate comes at a propitious moment. Zimbabwe is on the eve of its most critical election since independence. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for initiating this important debate.

As many noble Lords have said, I have just returned with the Prime Minister from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Zimbabwe was discussed extensively and I should like to thank noble Lords for their positive comments on my role in that Commonwealth meeting.

This weekend's presidential election in Zimbabwe is a matter of intense international interest. Several noble Lords have discussed how the international community should respond if the result and process is flawed or if it reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if at this stage I do not engage in speculation on likely outcomes. Noble Lords will know the clear position taken by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the need for free and fair elections. That call has been echoed across the international community.

Zimbabwe is now at a crossroads. For too many years it has suffered corruption, economic mismanagement, human rights abuses and political misrule. After an appalling period of prolonged and unnecessary political violence, Zimbabwe now stands at the brink. This weekend, it is the people of Zimbabwe themselves who have to decide which way they want to go, and they must not be denied this opportunity.

The people of Zimbabwe hear much propaganda about UK government policy towards their country. Zimbabwe's state-controlled media tell them that we want to re-colonise Zimbabwe, that we want to deprive the people of their independence. They are even told that we fund and support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. These allegations are not only malicious, they are mischievous. Britain helped Zimbabwe to its independence. We will not and have not shied away from speaking up for ordinary Zimbabweans, now or in the future.

I have said repeatedly, and I do so again this evening, that this Government have not been "inactive", a term that I believe was used by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker. We have held numerous debates in this House on Zimbabwe and the Government's policy has been outlined in detail. We have worked with all our international partners, but I must remind the House again that we are dealing with an independent, sovereign nation. I cannot speak on behalf of other Commonwealth countries—for example, South Africa, which was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Blaker and Lord Astor of Hever, or other countries in the region. Different countries have different interests and they come to their deliberations on the issues in Zimbabwe from different starting points and with different histories. Certainly in the time that I spent not only in Coolum but also during the time that I have spent as the Minister with responsibility for Africa, discussing these issues with African colleagues, with Commonwealth colleagues, with colleagues from other countries in the European Union, with colleagues from the United States and other parts of the world, I have been struck by the fact that sometimes the analysis is shared, but that we differ vastly in terms of what we think about tactics and next steps.

For example, the Southern African Development Community has discussed this issue on many occasions, but it is important that we all recognise that the people of Zimbabwe must have their say. It is ordinary Zimbabweans who have borne the brunt of misrule. A country that was once capable of feeding the whole of the southern African region now faces food shortages. The economy has imploded. Zimbabweans are concerned about lack of employment and access to basic services such as health and education. And, of course, there is the issue of land reform. We have made it absolutely clear that we think that the issue is important and that it requires reform, but reform in a way that is transparent and just.

On all those issues, the international community has long sought a constructive dialogue with the government of Zimbabwe, not one side dictating to the other, but frank, open and honest discussion. Sadly, the current regime in Zimbabwe has taken the opposite course. Instead of a mature partnership, it looks for phantom enemies in the international community. It uses important issues like land reform to cover up its own failures and economic and political mismanagement. It makes false allegations about the UK's adherence to the terms of Lancaster House.

Zimbabwe was the host of the 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting where leaders agreed the Commonwealth fundamental principles. These included respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is ironic and tragic that over recent years those principles have been systematically ignored by the government of Zimbabwe. That is why we argued strongly at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth. There was robust and widespread criticism of the government of Zimbabwe at CHOGM, but we must remember that the Commonwealth is a body of 54 countries representing over 1.7 billion people of diverse cultures and views. That diversity is the Commonwealth's strength, but there are perceptions that it is also the Commonwealth's weakness, because its decisions are unanimous. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his Statement made in another place this afternoon, there was no realistic prospect of a consensus to suspend Zimbabwe this close to the elections next weekend.

I do not agree that we could have achieved Zimbabwe's expulsion from the Commonwealth, for example, one or two years ago. Noble Lords are not looking at this issue realistically if they think that we could have achieved Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at an earlier moment.

However, the Commonwealth heads of government did agree a statement on Zimbabwe which expressed deep concern about the violence surrounding the election campaign and called for free and fair elections. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked about the process following receipt of the observers' report. Commonwealth heads mandated South Africa, Australia and Nigeria to reach a decision on the conduct of the election on their behalf once the Commonwealth election observers' report is received. Suspension remains very much on the agenda should the observers conclude that the elections were not satisfactory.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the troika empowered to make the final decision on suspension or will it have to refer the matter back to a superior authority?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the troika has the power to make the decision. That is precisely why the troika was agreed; that is, so that the decision will not have to be taken back to all the Commonwealth heads of government.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that the Commonwealth acted on other countries, but not African ones. Perhaps I may remind the noble Earl that Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth, and that Sierra Leone and Gambia have only recently been on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agenda.

A number of noble Lords have argued strongly that Zimbabwe's elections cannot possibly be free and fair. That is difficult for any reasonable person to dispute. The fact that the Opposition could still win despite that is a tribute to the strength of democracy in Zimbabwe, a sentiment expressed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place this afternoon, and by my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside in his powerful speech to this House.

However, there is also evidence that the widespread violence and intimidation, sanctioned by ZANU-PF, is having an effect. As many noble Lords have pointed out in the debate, an election is not just about the polling day. The campaign in Zimbabwe began as far back as early last year, when the attacks on the judiciary and the independent media began.

When we come to make our own assessment of the election, the Government will be guided by the conclusions of the 28th January European Union General Affairs Council, negotiated by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Those conclusions echoed the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum's own election norms and standards. Those are: that Zimbabwean voters should be free to choose whom they will support, without intimidation or fear of recrimination; that political parties should be free to form and seek support through campaigning, without restriction or intimidation; that the independent media should be free to gather and impart information; and that reporting in state-controlled media should contain a fair balance of parties' views. Other important norms include impartial electoral administration, the early accreditation of independent monitors and observers, adequate equipment and ballots, and the prompt transfer of power to the winners.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked specifically about the numbers of observers to be deployed. The Commonwealth deployed 59 observers, the Southern African Development Community 37 observers, and South Africa 57 observers and a 20 strong parliamentary delegation. In addition, there are other observers from countries such as Nigeria and I am aware that the OAU has also sent observers. But I have no information about those individual, bilateral observers.

The Government understand the deep anxiety of ordinary Zimbabweans and the concerns of those here who care about Zimbabwe. We have taken a strong, consistent line on the government of Zimbabwe's abuses of power. We have worked with our African, European, Commonwealth, North American and other partners to exert maximum influence on the regime. We have taken action. Once it became clear that the Zimbabwean Government would not allow a credible observation effort, the EU moved to targeted sanctions on 18th February and the US imposed a travel ban on 23rd February.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, suggested that we should be engaged in dialogue with South Africa and other African countries about the impact of the situation in Zimbabwe on the continent and the region. We have been engaged in such discussions. In fact, I recall that I have been criticised in this House by noble Lords on the Benches opposite for doing precisely that.

The noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso and Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, all mentioned the humanitarian situation and food shortages. Zimbabwe is indeed facing critical food shortages. Many thousands of Zimbabweans are now short of food, cooking oil and other basic goods. A deeper crisis is now certain whatever the election may bring. The projected figure for the 2002 harvest is 1 million tonnes. This is only half of the country's needs for the coming year. The causes of this crisis in production are complex but inter-related—the disruption to farming activities due to the fast-track land seizures; natural causes such as the prolonged mid-season drought; and, of course, the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I am aware that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has been waiting for replies to his PQs on food aid. I apologise unreservedly to him for the delay in getting responses to him. I shall of course chase them up immediately.

In response to the widespread shortages, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development authorised in September last year £4 million support for a supplementary feeding programme targeting more than 300,000 people, mainly schoolchildren. This is being run through non-governmental channels. The UN World Food Programme also began targeted feeding at the end of February, but recently halted operations for the period around the election. It plans to reinstate its programme with full-scale implementation after the election. We have contributed £3.5 million towards this programme and pledged further support. Further support for food inputs in Zimbabwe is part of the DfID contingency plans.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked specifically about targeted sanctions. I can confirm that they will not have an impact on the work of NGOs or on the supply and delivery of food aid.

A free and independent press is a vital element in the maintenance of democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law in any country. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked about SW Radio Africa. SW Radio Africa operates independently with its own sources of funding, and that is how it should be.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked about the prospects for the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield referred to its importance. This is an African-led process and contains within it an important recognition of the need for political and economic governance, a point raised specifically by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever.

The right reverend Prelate also referred to Uganda, one of the countries where we have an important development relationship. Primary education is one of our key areas, so I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate was able to see the success of our policy on the ground.

Africa remains a major priority of British policy. We are engaged in it for the long term. The international community's response to the New Partnership for Africa's Development will involve not only G8 action—and the G8 action plan on Africa is due to be considered in June this year—but will also involve the response from other financial institutions, the EU, the UN and others.

Zimbabwe has been like a cloud hanging over the New Partnership for Africa's Development—it was a key part of the discussions at the last G8 planning meeting in Cape Town, for example—but it is important to remind noble Lords that NePAD is a process, one in which we will continue to be engaged. We want to see a strong mature partnership with African countries based on leadership and mutual accountability.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that good governance is an essential element of that partnership, but there are other key issues. We are focused today on Zimbabwe—and in many of the discussions we have had recently on Africa we have talked about Zimbabwe—but other major issues need to be addressed in Africa. There are conflicts in countries the size of DRC and Sudan—both of which are independently larger than Western Europe—and a long-term conflict in Angola, which finally has the possibility of being resolved with the recent death of Savimbi.

In major areas such as economic growth, trade and investment, Africa accounts for only 1 per cent of world FDI. These are the kinds of issues that we can address successfully through the New Partnership for Africa's Development. I hope that we will be able to secure agreement all round the House for the work that we are doing to make that partnership a reality.

I know that many noble Lords share the frustrations of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who described feelings of sadness and anger in speaking about Zimbabwe. No one should doubt the Government's commitment to the people of Zimbabwe. We will wholeheartedly support a truly democratic and inclusive Zimbabwe. But we must also recognise that Zimbabwe is an independent country. The ultimate responsibility for a change in direction lies with the Zimbabwean people themselves. It is up to them now to go out and vote and to ensure that their voice is heard. They must be allowed to do so.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 8:27 pm, 6th March 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a useful and important debate. We have agreed in general on the analysis although there have been some—but not very many—disagreements about the way ahead.

We have, in addition, agreed on four points. We can all see the potential for disaster and human suffering if things go wrong; it is difficult to be optimistic about how things will look in a month's time, although the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso shed a little light by his reference to a united government; we have faith in the ordinary people of Zimbabwe; and we see the enormous importance of a successful outcome for NePAD and for the Commonwealth. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.