Mugabe Regime: Travel Ban

– in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 29th October 2003.

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Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour 2:50 pm, 29th October 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will continue to support the common position adopted by the Council of Ministers of the European Union imposing a travel ban on named Zimbabwean individuals in the Mugabe regime.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very clear reply. I support entirely the common position on the travel ban on Mugabe's thugs. My noble friend will be aware that this policy has given the governing council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva the excuse to cancel the conference which was to be held in London next year and was due to be attended by Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. Does she agree that this raises some very serious issues for the IPU, as not only does it make it impossible for future conferences to be held in any EU member state, it also calls into question the nature of the organisation when it appears that a majority of countries which have no more than a passing acquaintance with parliamentary democracy are able to ride roughshod over the views of the rest?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that our commitment to upholding the travel ban was demonstrated very fully by our decision not to ask for waivers for banned Zimbabweans to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference which was scheduled to take place in London next year. The fact is that the IPU has now decided to move the conference from London in order to get round the travel ban in very much the way suggested by my noble friend. Her Majesty's Government regret that decision by the IPU, but we stand by our commitment, under international law, to uphold the travel ban. It is of course a matter for the IPU now to decide where it wants to hold the meeting—if, indeed, it wishes to do so—and who it wishes to invite to such a meeting.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament, Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa, refused to answer any of the letters addressed to him by the Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and that when the IPU tried to send a mission of three people to Harare, they were turned back at the door? In view of the fact that the governing council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union passed a resolution on 3rd October condemning the unlawful detention, torture and ill treatment of 33 Opposition MPs in the Zimbabwean Parliament, should not the travel ban be extended to cover all the ZANU-PF members in the present Zimbabwean Parliament?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I was not aware of that exchange, or non-exchange, of correspondence that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has drawn to our attention. However, I am bound to say that I am not surprised to learn of the situation he describes.

There are now 79 individuals on the banned list, which will come up for review in the European Union in February next year when, no doubt, points such as the one the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has drawn to our attention will be put before the EU. Your Lordships will also know that there are members of Her Majesty's Government who are banned from travelling to Zimbabwe. I enjoy the very peculiar distinction of having been banned twice—once as a Trade Minister and once as a Foreign Office Minister.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I believe that the Minister will agree with me that the common position makes specific references to the breakdown of the rule of law and order and to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. How can we reconcile our support for that with the Home Office statement that it is safe to return to Zimbabwe? Indeed, the Home Office's policy requires Zimbabwean asylum seekers to seek voluntary return; unless they do so, they are refused accommodation, support and the right to work. May I suggest to the noble Baroness that there needs to be some reconciliation between this position and our very correct foreign policy, particularly in view of the immediate impact of CHOGM?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am aware of the position that the noble Baroness has drawn to our attention because she was kind enough to bring this matter to the attention of officials in the Foreign Office and the Home Office. I understand that she has had a meeting with officials and that the very matters she has raised with your Lordships are under consideration. She will know, of course, that there is a factsheet available to individuals who wish to return to Zimbabwe—its details have been discussed with the noble Baroness. However, she has raised some important questions and I understand that she may shortly expect a response from those with whom she has had the discussions.

Photo of Lord Watson of Richmond Lord Watson of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, what will happen if Mr Mugabe decides to travel to CHOGM?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as I understand it, he will cause considerable embarrassment, not least to the Nigerian Government, and I imagine that that embarrassment will extend to others. Noble Lords may also like to know that Mr Mugabe has not been invited.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, may I press the noble Baroness a little further on that question? Does she accept our view that the Government were right to uphold the travel ban in relation to the IPU, even though the consequences have been a little unfortunate? But as for the meeting in Nigeria in December, surely the world should be moving to prevent such a journey taking place. Is it enough simply to wring our hands? Can we not mobilise support within the Commonwealth, of which we are a partner and a member, to prevent Mugabe and his gang going to Nigeria and to bring home the argument that merely because they have been suspended for one year they have somehow fulfilled their penalties and should be allowed back in? Surely we should reject that view with the utmost vigour.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the fact is that when one does what is right, there are very often what the noble Lord has described as unfortunate consequences. That is what we have to face. With regard to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, we are not merely wringing our hands, as the noble Lord puts it. We have not invited Mr Mugabe. We have discussed this matter with the Nigerians and shall continue to rally as much support as possible for the position which has been adopted by Her Majesty's Government. We believe that we have a strong moral argument which is supported by many, many people in the Commonwealth. Perhaps, if I may say so, the noble Lord's injunction should also be addressed to some of the others in the Commonwealth who also need to be encouraged on this point. I see the noble Lord nodding at that remark, and I hope that he and his party will do so.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of any action that the French Government might have taken to emphasise their solidarity with European Community decision-making in the light of the vote of the French parliamentary representatives, which showed a remarkable lack of solidarity?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we have had our—how shall I put it?—differences of opinion with some of our friends in France over the travel ban. Your Lordships may recall an interesting interlude in the operation of the travel ban earlier this year in relation to a meeting held in Paris. However, under the EU common position, there is the possibility of a country issuing a visa for Zimbabweans to travel when such travel would accommodate a meeting under a treaty obligation. I refer, of course, to the meeting in Rome from 9th to 18th October at which the EU ACP arrangements were discussed. That was an obligation under a treaty, so the travel ban did not apply. That is a rather different European position from the one to which I believe my noble friend Lord Tomlinson was referring.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government getting help from South Africa or is South Africa being extremely difficult in this situation?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we are getting some help from South Africa but, as I am sure the noble Baroness will know, there are a number of our friends in the Commonwealth whose position on this is more nuanced than ours. When we have hoped, for example, to gain support in the United Nations for the possibility of a Security Council resolution, as I indicated yesterday, there has not always been the enthusiasm that we would have wished to see.