Zimbabwe: Company Assets

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 10th October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 3:21 pm, 10th October 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to protect British interests in Zimbabwe against forcible seizure by the Government of Zimbabwe of 51 per cent of the assets of companies.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we understand that, regrettably, the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Bill, which requires the transfer of at least 51 per cent of foreign-owned companies to indigenous Zimbabweans, will become law shortly. We are certainly in favour of an environment in which Zimbabwe business and business people can prosper, and it is important that all Zimbabweans can benefit from the natural mineral and other resources available in Zimbabwe; but the indigenisation Bill will discourage foreign investment from investing and remaining in Zimbabwe. It will not ease the country's economic crisis. I can assure the noble Lord that we are keeping in touch with British companies in Zimbabwe and discussing their concerns.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, is it not clear that Mugabe's purpose is not to help the economy of his country, but to enhance his power of patronage by giving him the ability to bribe his cronies with businesses as well as farms? Does the noble Lord recall that President Mbeki not long ago said that African problems should be dealt with by Africans? Is not SADC positively aggravating the problems of southern Africa, because every time Mugabe attends a SADC ministerial conference he is greeted as a hero? That cannot be doing any good to the investment which southern Africa needs.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I agree with every word. My one qualification is that the SADC negotiations, led by President Mbeki, are in their final stages in trying to agree conditions for free and fair elections. We should wait to see those results before arriving at a judgment, but, so far, SADC has disappointed us with the treatment it has accorded President Mugabe.

Photo of Lord Morris of Handsworth Lord Morris of Handsworth Labour

My Lords, in light of the Prime Minister's statement that he will not attend the Lisbon summit if President Mugabe is there, what advice is being given to our sportsmen and women who are required to be on the same field of play as representatives of the Zimbabwe Government? Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister of Australia has given a clear lead in saying that Zimbabwe will not be able to tour Australia? Have the British Government any plans to give similar advice?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we are reluctant to involve ourselves too directly in matters of sport. We hope that sporting bodies can arrive at this decision on their own, but we agree that we must look at the Australian example. My ministerial colleague in the other House said yesterday that we were reviewing this matter in light of the Australian decision.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, the Minister agreed yesterday, in the context of Burma, that banking sanctions have been effective in the case of Sudan and should be applied again with Burma. Would that not also extend to Zimbabwe? Can the noble Lord seek to mobilise international support—particularly in South Africa, where companies are also affected, as ours are—for an international ban on the use of the banking system by companies that have been taken over under Mugabe's seizure?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, we already apply banking sanctions and have seized the assets of Zimbabwean individuals named as being responsible for the crimes of this regime. I am afraid that here in the UK we have not found much in that regard, as I think that those responsible prudently moved their assets out of the UK before we did that. However, if there is action against British or South African companies in Zimbabwe, we will certainly want to look at the matter that the noble Lord has raised.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, what steps are being taken to ensure that human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe are brought up and discussed in the agenda of the EU-Africa meeting?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, first, we are pressing hard—and the Foreign Secretary will press directly for this at a meeting of European Foreign Ministers next week—for the appointment of an EU envoy to visit Zimbabwe before that summit and report back to the EU and the summit on the human rights situation in the country. Secondly, Britain, along with others, continues to support human rights activists inside Zimbabwe so that they can try in a neutral, objective way to bring attention to human rights abuses there.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister recollect that the Question asked what steps the Government are taking to protect British interests in Zimbabwe? What has he said today that will cause Mr Mugabe to shiver in his shoes and draw back from what he is doing?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, as always, the noble Lord is forensically correct in his question. The answer is: probably very little. The British Government have taken a number of steps and have pressed the rest of the international community to take more steps against President Mugabe. However, there is no doubt that he seeks to turn this on us by arguing that we are merely perpetrating a continuation of some colonial action against him. It is vital that we persuade his African neighbours and the rest of the international community to share our outrage and combine together on taking other steps against this Government.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

My Lords, further to the point that my noble friend has just made, if this issue is handled by ZANU-PF as poorly as the matter of the commercial farms, is it not likely that this move will lead to still greater unemployment and a still greater number of refugees entering South Africa? In the light of this and of what my noble friend has just said—and pace the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—what is President Mbeki's attitude to yet more refugees coming as a result of this legislation?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, my noble friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that there are already millions of refugees in South Africa, swamping its social services and increasing its unemployment. There is no doubt that the action of the kind now contemplated in Zimbabwe would target the only functioning parts left of that country's economy—the natural resources and banking sectors. So we very much hope that President Mbeki will bring his influence to bear to prevent this absurd action.