Zimbabwe

– in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 15 June 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, the Government deplore and condemn this abhorrent crackdown and call upon the government of Zimbabwe to end it immediately. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, to the Written Statement issued yesterday in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jack Straw. In it he expressed his grave concern, set out our political response—both bilaterally and in conjunction with our European Union partners—and outlined the humanitarian assistance we have provided to the victims of this outrage. The Statement is available in the Library as well as on the FCO website.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Obviously we concur with the Foreign Secretary's expressed concern. But with more than 20,000 people now burnt out of their homes or having their homes bulldozed, inflation running in that poor country at 144 per cent and mass starvation on all sides, has not the time come to revive the aim of bringing this to a UN resolution? Has that been tried in the past 10 days? Has help been sought from the leadership of Nigeria, which is involved, or of South Africa, which is involved and ought to be more involved? What further steps are the Government prepared to take? Do they now recognise that quiet diplomacy will never solve this problem or relieve the suffering?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, the response to the current crisis has been robust and swift. We have raised our concerns directly with the government of Zimbabwe, with our ambassador in Harare, and my noble friend Lord Triesman summoned the Zimbabwean chargé d'affaires on 13 June. Our ambassador to the UN raised this issue directly with the Secretary-General this week. As the noble Lord may be aware, Zimbabwe was raised at the United Nations Security Council by the UN Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egelund, in the context of the humanitarian situation facing southern Africa.

Our position with regard to a Security Council resolution has not, for the moment, changed, As the noble Lord is aware, it is believed that if there were to be such a resolution, it would not be passed, and that would give comfort to Mugabe.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that quiet diplomacy is not succeeding. Is it not the case that megaphone diplomacy—we have all used it in debates—is not working either? What, therefore, are we to do? There is undoubtedly a huge amount of frustration in all parts of the House about the failure to come to grips with the situation in Zimbabwe. Is my noble friend aware that some distinguished commentators, such as Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society, advocates sitting down and speaking to Mugabe? When I asked him what about, nobody knows. Is it not the case that we will have to use megaphone diplomacy and quiet diplomacy since direct intervention, either by British, Nigerian and South African forces, or by another country's forces, is not on the cards, and we had better begin to realise that?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, nobody is contemplating direct intervention. Clearly quiet diplomacy is not working at the moment. However, we are working with the United Nations and our European Union partners to bring pressure to bear on the abhorrent regime in Zimbabwe. At some stage, there has to be a change, but the Government believe that this is the way to continue to act.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will not return one single asylum-seeker to Zimbabwe while this situation continues? It started again at Christmas, and it is absolutely indefensible. Her Majesty's Government can do something about it, whatever the UN or the African Union think. I would like to see that firm gesture made, especially as Pius Ncube, the very brave Roman Catholic Archbishop, asked for this when he was recently presented with a peace prize.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, I cannot confirm that. As the noble Baroness will know, we continue to provide asylum and other forms of protection for those Zimbabweans who need it. We return only Zimbabweans who do not qualify for asylum, and that is consistent with our approach to other countries, including those with a similar poor human rights record. Each application is considered against the background of the latest situation in the country. Our information comes from a wide range of sources, including international organisations, NGOs and the media.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, there is clearly a large refugee problem already. We read reports of people going to South Africa and being returned from South Africa. Are the Government consulting Zimbabwe's neighbours about the current and likely future refugee problem? Are we consulting Zimbabwe's neighbours bilaterally and through the African Union and SADC about how we will reconstruct Zimbabwe when this regime finally collapses?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, the Government are talking constantly to Zimbabwe's neighbours, bilaterally through SADC and the European Union, about refugees, asylum and the necessary reconstruction of Zimbabwe, which will come one day.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm reports that people in other countries are buying up assets in Zimbabwe at prices which are very low because of the collapse of its economy under Mr Mugabe? If that is so, are there not two implications? First, the recovery of Zimbabwe, when it is allowed to occur, will take considerably longer than it otherwise would. Secondly, we should continue to take steps—if we are taking steps at all, and there are not very many—to resolve the problem of Zimbabwe.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, I cannot comment on people buying up assets cheaply; I will look into that and write to the noble Lord. If that is happening, it will of course have an effect on the future reconstruction of Zimbabwe.

We have been taking real action with the European Union on the current crisis. We have also been at the forefront of international action over the past few years to try to isolate Mugabe and his abhorrent regime. We have been taking action.