Zimbabwe: Public Servants

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:50 pm on 22 October 2007.

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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) 9:50, 22 October 2007

My Lords, I was with the noble Lord until that intervention. We believe that several thousand people fall into the category which he describes of those who have southern Rhodesian pensions which they are now not receiving, of whom, as he rightly pointed out originally, some 350 are resident in the UK. However, I wonder whether we can fairly distinguish between those who have chosen to spend their retirement in the UK and those who have established roots in Zimbabwe and have continued to live there and who probably now would not anyway have the economic means to return to the UK. It is probably appropriate that we should treat this group as a single group whose case for a pension is the same, whether they have remained in Zimbabwe or returned to the UK. I do not think that the issue of how they are paid, in terms of being in Zimbabwe, is one that cannot be overcome. The other group of eligible pensioners is satisfactorily paid through sterling accounts in Zimbabwe, or if they prefer, into accounts in this country which they can then make their own arrangements to draw on.

The noble Lord should acknowledge that we cannot look at this as a group of 350 people; we must look at it as a group of approximately 2,000 who are eligible whether they are resident in Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom or, indeed, a third country. I shall look at that group again in the light of this evening's debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, so eloquently argued, there is a moral and a pragmatic case here, and a responsibility to public servants who have served the Crown so honourably. Above all else, the dramatic change in circumstances has meant that these individuals are in a situation that none of us could have envisaged at the time of the Lancaster House agreement. Therefore, we need to look at the matter again. I cannot give a commitment because, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, suspected, I arrived with a brief which required me to defend the current situation. I now need to look at it again in the light of what was said this evening.

On the broader point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, we do our best to ensure that our humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in Zimbabwe and avoids the hands of the Zimbabwean Government. We are giving £40 million per year in aid and it is targeted at those who are most vulnerable and in need across the board, including, of course, the elderly. It supports some 2 million people, which, with a third of Zimbabweans having left the country, I am afraid is a very significant portion of the remaining population. The Prime Minister recently announced that we have given a further £8 million this year to support the World Food Programme's appeal. Our aid goes directly to NGOs and via the UN; it does not support the Government in any way.

As noble Lords know, we continue to take other steps to try to tighten the list of those not allowed to travel here and to try to persuade the European Union to join us in tightening these arrangements. The noble Baroness touched on the Prime Minister's decision not to attend the EU/African Union Summit and, indeed, to say that no senior Minister will attend. As noble Lords know, however, we hope that the summit will proceed and be a success, precisely because we do not want the whole of Africa to be hostage to this terrible tragedy in Zimbabwe. We have a lot of good things to do with the rest of Africa, and it is important that we can proceed to do them.

I think that we all recognise that, in the light of subsequent events, President Mugabe's knighthood has become a travesty. However, there is the issue of the appropriate circumstances in which it might be removed so that it does not make him a local folk hero. We need to continue to reflect on that; but please do not consider our lack of action as somehow suggesting that we think that he deserves it.

I thank all those who have participated in the debate this evening for their extraordinarily important points, which have certainly opened my eyes to an issue of which I was insufficiently aware.


James nelson
Posted on 23 Oct 2007 11:19 pm (Report this annotation)

Despite what the noble Lord says, they do make a clear distinction between pensioners who have returned to the UK and those who remain in Zimbabwe. The state pension is frozen for those who still live in Zimbabwe, except that it is temporarily uprated if they visit UK or any EU country, and permanently and fully uprated if they decide to return to UK to live.