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Volume 685: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current situation in Zimbabwe.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have not debated Zimbabwe for a considerable time. I am grateful to have the opportunity to put that right today.

The Government of Zimbabwe get more brutally violent day by day. The courageous opponents of Mugabe’s regime have been demonstrating their opposition more vigorously than ever. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main part of the MDC, has been touring the country and steadily getting more support. The campaign against Mugabe is backed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the South African trade union organisation COSATU, Zimbabwe’s National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, a statement by the ILO, Women of Zimbabwe Arise—a brave and active group—and the Churches, apart from the Bishop of Harare who has been busy collecting farms. It is also backed by the combined Harare residents association, local organisations and a group of black trade unionists in the United States.

That is a great increase in active and vocal support. In this country, the TUC is planning a meeting in London on 4 November, at which the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will be present. He has recently been imprisoned and savagely beaten, suffering broken bones.

The struggle is now more violent and has turned more to governance than the economy. On the economy, however, incredibly, it gets steadily worse. Zimbabwe, which used to be one of the most developed countries in Africa, has now been designated a “least developed country” by the World Bank. Life expectancy has fallen to 34 years for women and 37 for men—the lowest in the world. There has been a drop of 50 per cent in GDP. Farms are being seized by the army, even from black farmers, because soldiers are not being paid. The brain drain of highly qualified people continues.

What can be done on governance? I have some proposals. First, sanctions are absolutely vital and must continue. If they were to be reduced, the morale of those opposing Mugabe would collapse, as would their campaign. I am told that some members of the European Union are a bit wobbly on sanctions, especially those from southern Europe, although the Scandinavians are sound. Her Majesty’s Government should give this top priority.

Secondly, many of Zimbabwe’s neighbours are suffering economically, such as South Africa, as well as many others in SADC. South Africa fears that Zimbabwe will implode, flooding it with even more immigrants. I suggest that South Africa could use its dominant position in SADC to call for Zimbabwe to be suspended from its membership so long as Mugabe is in power.

Efforts should be made in the UN Security Council to follow up the excellent report, by the UN official responsible for habitat, on Mugabe’s scandalous operation, Murambatsvina, which destroyed the housing of between 700,000 and 1 million people. Despite Mugabe’s promises, only a tiny minority of these people have been rehoused. The whole operation was designed principally for electoral purposes.

The new UN Secretary-General could be urged to visit Zimbabwe in place of Kofi Annan, whose visit, planned for this year, was aborted by Mugabe. Mugabe alleged that it would clash with the nomination of the ex-president of Tanzania, Mr Mkapa, who had been called in to mediate—so Mugabe said—between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom. This ridiculous proposal was correctly rejected briskly by Her Majesty’s Government.

Another proposal is perhaps more ambitious and controversial. In April 2006, the Security Council decided in a resolution that it should have the power,

“to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means … to help protect populations from … crimes against humanity”.

This means, of course, possible intervention, with the approval of the Security Council, in the internal affairs of other countries. It follows a report by the Secretary-General in 2005 on the reform of the United Nations, and the broad proposals of which it is part are referred to as the “responsibility to protect”. The words I have used are distinct from any dealing with military action—I am not talking about that; it is not relevant to what I am saying. Her Majesty’s Government could take a lead with like-minded countries, to work out how to apply this part of the Security Council resolution usefully in the present situation in Zimbabwe. There is no doubting the massive crimes against humanity there.

Noble Lords may think that Mugabe would respond to such a move with his usual accusations of imperialism. Would they be so effective now that we would be on the side of the black trades unions in Zimbabwe and the United States? We have, of course, no imperial ambitions, as he would allege, and as much right as any other country to rely on the duty to protect, as given in this new proposal, in relation to Mugabe’s actions.

We are Zimbabwe’s biggest provider of aid. There are more Zimbabwean exiles in this country than in any other country, and we have more knowledge of Zimbabwe than any other country does. The president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions will be at the TUC meeting on 4 November, and he has already said that the United Kingdom should take the lead in these matters. His advice is worth listening to, so if Mugabe accuses us of neo-colonial ideas, as he has for the past six years, we should not now be concerned.

Events in Zimbabwe are now moving a little. In Cairo, on his way back from the General Assembly of the UN, Mugabe said the,

“police were right in dealing sternly with the ZCTU leaders”


“some people are now crying foul that they were assaulted. Yes, you get a beating … when the police say move, move”.

Those words were in a report by the valiant campaigner for freedom in Zimbabwe, Kate Hoey MP, who has recently been in that country as she reported in the New Statesman on 9 October. Mugabe’s words will be relevant if matters ever come to The Hague, as they amount to Mugabe claiming responsibility for the actions of the police.

More open support by Her Majesty’s Government for the campaign for democracy in Zimbabwe would give a boost to that campaign, which is being vigorously conducted. I hope they will give that support.

My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on his remarkable persistence in again bringing before your Lordships’ House the tragedy that ZANU-PF has made of Zimbabwe. I look forward to the contributions of all noble Lords, and I hope that they will join the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and say more about South Africa. My old friend, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, who 15 years ago welcomed me to this House when I made my maiden speech in a debate on South Africa, can usually be relied on to stress his other homeland.

I shall ask the Minister two questions concerning South Africa and Zimbabwe. First, will he explain the policy of the Government of South Africa towards Zimbabwe? Secondly, will the British Government do everything they can to persuade the South African Government to put maximum pressure on ZANU-PF?

Last week, I made a speech that lasted seven seconds. Today, I feel positively garrulous and am delighted to have given your Lordships an extra minute.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for providing this opportunity to address once again the awfulness that is going on in Zimbabwe today. The recent arrest, prolonged detention and severe torture of many members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is but the latest example of the savage actions of the police. The arrests in mid-September took place before the explicitly announced peaceful demonstrations against the Zimbabwean Government’s mismanagement of the economy, which has reduced the country and its citizens to a state of penury and starvation. Those still in detention are at risk of death due to lack of medical attention to the injuries they sustained during torture. This series of arrests and its aftermath are extraordinary, even by the standards set by the Mugabe Government in the past couple of years.

Now is, perhaps, the time to use the full array of legal, diplomatic and other measures open to the UK and the EU in order to create a critical mass of international opinion and to support those in Zimbabwe who bear the unspeakable brunt of repression. The UK Government, who have had to withstand charges of wishing to re-colonise Zimbabwe, have nevertheless made strong statements against President Mugabe’s regime and have supported strong actions, but more can now be done. In particular, the EU, which passed a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Zimbabwe in September, is due to revisit both official and personal travel sanctions in January 2007. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, has already mentioned that there may be some EU countries, notably Portugal, which wish to ease these sanctions. I ask the UK Government to oppose with vigour any such moves, to strengthen wherever possible the criteria for their removal, and to vote to keep, and even extend, such sanctions.

The newly established Human Rights Council, which will convene its third session at the end of November, provides yet another forum in which to initiate and table a further resolution on Zimbabwe. Any resolution should endorse and thereby reaffirm that passed by the council of the African Union’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, if only to try to mitigate the accusation of western interference. At the UN level, there is the opportunity to lobby at the General Assembly, including in the Third Committee on governance and human rights. The Zimbabwean situation has now reached such proportions that it is appropriate to refer Zimbabwe to the Security Council.

I remind the Minister of the recommendation in the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs 2005:

“We recommend that the United Kingdom start a campaign for the referral of Robert Mugabe to the International Criminal Court for his manifold and monstrous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe”.

Torture in Zimbabwe is widespread, systematic and severe and therefore constitutes a crime against humanity. Under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, there is a duty on all those who are signed up to the statute to bring a prosecution at the court in The Hague. Perhaps now is the time to initiate a campaign on that.

Finally, given the blatant and severe torture committed by the Zimbabwe police, and its approval at the highest level, can the Government encourage the UN to exclude the Zimbabwe police from participating in any international peacekeeping missions, such as UNMIK in Kosovo, where a new group has just been sent?

My Lords, we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for securing this debate. Mugabe, the great liberation leader, thinks in terms of command operations. Last year, Operation Murambatsvina destroyed the urban population and the urban opposition. Since many of the urban poor had returned, this year Operation Round-Up again removed children and the homeless to the countryside. I am glad to say that those operations were successfully publicised to the world by, among others, the admirable Kate Hoey, and were roundly condemned by the UN rapporteur, Anna Tibaijuka, and after her by Jan Egeland. However, UN agencies inside the country as usual felt unable to act to help the victims unless asked to do so by the Government. Tents were flown in, and tents were rejected and flown out again. The new housing in Operation Garikai, which was allegedly meant for the homeless, was allocated to soldiers, policemen and ZANU-PF.

However, far worse was to come. It was the creation of command agriculture in Operation Taguta, which means, “eat well”. I am indebted to the admirable Solidarity Peace Trust report for the information that follows on this. The military already managed food distribution through the Grain Marketing Board, and now they are also responsible for food production. This has the political advantage that angry, underpaid and demoralised soldiers will be kept active and well fed, whatever happens to the rest. The tragedy is that they know nothing about farming. In irrigation schemes, they have wantonly destroyed cash crops, including some for export, have ordered all established fruit trees to be uprooted, and market gardens, an essential source of income for lack of which most children can no longer be sent to school, have also been destroyed. Plot-holders have been turned into paupers. The military are destroying established crop rotation structures and, in one case, the fertility of the fields through grossly ignorant over-use of fertilizers. Underpaid, discontented troops have seized whole maize harvests, leaving families with nothing. Needless to say, there is wide corruption and 60 per cent of the funds allocated to agriculture have never reached the farmers, and the same is true of the diesel allocation. Vice-President Mujuru told the farmers that no family should receive more than 10 maize cobs a day from their own fields. Plot-holders must apply to the soldiers to get one maize cob for each family member.

As if it were not bad enough to be beaten and starved and to see their children lose all hope of school, the farmers see the arbitrary reallocation of plots by the soldiers. This has caused deep anxiety over tenure and the power of the community to make its own decisions. In Matabeleland the brutality of the soldiers and their absolute power has brought back memories of the murderous destruction wrought by the Fifth Brigade in the 1980s. Once more the people are entirely at the mercy of the troops; they are starving; and the Government are successfully destroying their independence.

The harvest was never going to be enough, despite all these recipes for failure, but since Mugabe told the World Food Programme earlier this year that there would be no need for further food aid, WFP food is running out, there are no donors, and a famine is certain. Food distribution will be cut by 60 per cent immediately, and 364,000 school children and 190,000 of the chronically ill are expected to die. We are looking not at the death of a nation but at its murder by its own rulers; and from Anna Tibaijuka and others, we know that the UN, though present and anxious to help, has been rebuffed as has the whole western world.

However, brave Kate Hoey's most recent incursion has confirmed that there are still many Zimbabweans—such as trade unionists, the women's movement, the human rights cohort, the Churches and the judiciary—incidentally the brave lawyer Beatrice Mtetra has just been given the Woman of the Year award—who continue bravely to resist and to protest. What they lack is the oxygen of publicity in a world where they cannot speak on the radio or through the press or gather together, and they cannot move around or communicate countrywide for lack of funds. I believe that we have a duty, through trade union links, Bar Councils, women's movements and so forth in the free world, to enable civil society to survive and lead the country. They need funds, support, and to know they have friends.

As the UN, the large NGOs and government seem paralysed, and the African Union leaders value one cruel and reptilian liberation leader above the suffering of millions, civil society in the free world must act. Very little money would be needed to give a voice to the students, the trade unionists and the other unknown and unsung leaders whom we must help to help themselves. It is vital they should be in place and have an effective national voice when the situation implodes. They, not the UN or the AU, must decide what happens then. The first thing they will want is the return of the rule of law. No squalid bargains must be struck by the world with this loathsome regime to pre-empt the wishes of the people. They must be able to count on the AU, the EU and the UN to enter into no negotiation about the future of the country over their heads.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, does us all a service in raising this issue again. Earlier this year Zimbabwe ranked fifth in Foreign Policy magazine's index of failed states, alongside Iraq and worse than Afghanistan and even Somalia. With inflation still over 1,000 per cent—the highest in the world outside a war zone—and acute shortages of everything, a once prosperous country, and the most promising multiracial African state only 25 years ago, has been brought to its knees. The breadbasket has become the basket case.

This is largely the achievement of one man who has transformed himself from an acclaimed idol of the liberation struggle to a ruthless dictator who is well past his sell-by date. In passing over the known atrocities which this regime has perpetrated—the Matabele massacres; the attacks on farmers and farm workers, black and white; the torture and abuse of elected politicians and trade union leaders; and the wanton destruction of homes—we must pay tribute to the ordinary Zimbabweans who have resisted these torments and who ultimately will survive their tormentors.

There is no point now in recalling the expectations we had when I was working for the British Council of Churches at a time, a generation ago, when we were rejoicing at Zimbabwe's new saviour. Since then the Churches have been divided, compromised and silent. But there has been some reawakening in the last year through the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance and its related Save Zimbabwe Campaign. This campaign has brought together a wide spectrum of civil society, professional men and women merely seeking peaceful change. But such groups have to contend every day with repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act which forbids public gatherings. As the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said only last month, Wellington Chibebe and a dozen other trade unionists were imprisoned, tortured, and, in his case, beaten unconscious.

We must take care in the UK not to mouth anyone's propaganda but to get our facts right and listen to Zimbabweans. I know of someone who spent half of last year assisting hundreds of people made homeless by the notorious Operation Murambatsvina. He says that, disguised as an urban clean-up exercise, this operation,

“reduced thousands of people to refugees in their own homeland and destroyed livelihoods for many households”.

Many of his relatives who are professionals, he says, have been “literarily reduced to paupers” by rampant inflation and economic meltdown. There is no exaggeration here. Zimbabweans like these are still fleeing the country in their thousands, just as others once came from Zambia and Botswana to Zimbabwe to find work and a means of survival. With farm evictions continuing, who knows what is happening to thousands of farm workers and landless labourers, many of whom have been forced by the army to remain on the land unremunerated. The scale of suffering away from the eyes of the restricted media can only be imagined.

Equally, we must not forget the extent of the past suffering of African leaders, including Mr Mugabe and his family, who were imprisoned or tortured during the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. That does not excuse it, but it has inevitably coloured the bitter feelings that they have carried with them into so-called liberation. Friendships made then endure, and we have to recognise that. We must remember that even the present leaders of the “front-line states” are likely to show solidarity well beyond the call of duty. The actions of such as Benjamin Mkapa or Thabo Mbeki, who act as intermediaries, cannot be dismissed simply on the grounds of their contact with Mr Mugabe.

It is important for every bridge to be built, and this of course includes our own aid programme and those who take part in it. I fully acknowledge what DfID has been doing through the United Nations and civil society, especially to combat hunger and HIV/AIDS. We cannot expect a lot more from our own Government in the absence of conventional diplomacy. But they could give Zimbabwe more priority. We could keep pressing for more effective EU sanctions. We should also take care that we adopt immigration policies that are fair to those genuinely seeking asylum, as distinct from those found to be fraudulent. I believe that the British public would like Zimbabwe to be a special case. And yet under the fast-track process we are detaining and sending back more and more genuine refugees to an unknown fate. The Government must think again about the effects of this policy on our friends in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa.

My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for introducing this debate and once again bringing the ongoing plight of Zimbabwe to the attention of your Lordships' House.

There is a popular saying that pessimism is sensible because pessimists are never disappointed. Unfortunately I have been an optimist for Zimbabwe, and I have been bitterly disappointed. There have been so many false dawns for Zimbabwe and her long-suffering peoples in recent years when it seemed as though a deal would be done and a government of national unity would be established and law and order restored. The essence of most of these initiatives, generally originating in South Africa, is that President Mugabe would agree to step down and a government of national unity would be formed in return for a guarantee that leading members of the ruling ZANU-PF party would be granted amnesty from prosecution.

There have been times when agreement seemed imminent but the deals have failed, most recently because of the indictment of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, for human rights crimes. The incident scared Robert Mugabe into believing that the same fate might await him. He therefore prefers to cling to power. In those circumstances, most observers accept that Robert Mugabe will remain as President of Zimbabwe until he dies. Sadly for Zimbabweans, life is worse, and it is likely to get even worse before it gets better.

Some observers continue to believe that the people of Zimbabwe will rise against their leaders, in much the same way as the people of Romania rose against Ceausescu, and the Ukrainians staged their Orange Revolution. Sadly, I believe that such an uprising in Zimbabwe is extremely unlikely. It did not happen when the Zimbabwean Government launched their cruel operations to bulldoze the stalls and shacks of street traders in Harare in areas where their political opponents are strong. It also did not happen when the opposition MDC recently called for mass action.

There are two reasons why the people will not protest. First, unfortunately, there is a lack of plausible opposition in the country. The MDC seemed credible in the past but is now deeply divided between those who support Morgan Tsvangirai, a man with charisma but doubtful judgment, and those who support Arthur Mutambara, a man of great intellect but less popular appeal. Secondly, a remarkable 70 per cent, if not more, of Zimbabweans live in rural areas where they remain largely unaware of the government excesses in the urban areas.

As a result, it is probably true that if a general election was held tomorrow, ZANU-PF would be the clear winners. In fact, the next presidential election is scheduled for 2008, with the next parliamentary election to follow in 2010. There are rumours that the Government intend postponing the presidential election until 2010, giving Mugabe another two years in power. Perhaps the Minister could inform us whether Her Majesty's Government are taking steps to ensure that the presidential election is held in 2008.

Succession planning is of course a key issue. Whenever Mugabe goes, he will probably be succeeded by one of four main candidates. There is the increasingly prominent and proactive Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, who has presided over the recent devaluation of the currency and clampdown on the parallel currency market. Alternatively, there is the current Vice-President, Joyce Mujuru, wife of the powerful retired general, Solomon Mujuru; or even the former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni. The other alternative would be Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Speaker of Parliament.

The sub-plot to that tussle for power is the struggle between the various clans within the numerically dominant Shona tribe. Mugabe leads the Zezuru clan, while Mnangagwa and Gono are influential members of the Karanga group. Makoni comes from another clan, the Manyika. This difficult situation leaves Her Majesty's Government in a position where they must continue to provide humanitarian aid, where possible, and apply pressure on the Harare regime.

Despite the irrational ranting of their president, many—in fact, most—Zimbabweans view Britain with deep affection and there is no doubt that, as soon as circumstances allow, this country will be expected to play a major role in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe. In preparation, Her Majesty's Government should start to promote a Marshall aid programme to support the swift recovery of Zimbabwe.

Finally, I add that we cannot take for granted our pre-eminent position in Zimbabwe, as there are increasing trade contacts between Zimbabwe and Russia and China, which are no doubt making promises that will not necessarily be delivered.

I wish to end on a more positive note—and I appreciate that I have overstepped my mark by one minute. Zimbabwe remains a country blessed with a relatively strong infrastructure, arable land, precious metals and minerals and a highly educated and literate workforce. Mercifully, the landscape is not strewn with landmines, as in the nearby states of Mozambique and Angola. The fundamentals remain in place and, when the time comes, Her Majesty’s Government must be ready to lead the recovery and to incentivise and motivate the international community to rebuild that wonderful country. That time, please God, will not be too far away.

My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on bringing this debate to us today and on the way that he set out the issues involving Zimbabwe, and to the many other noble Lords who have made telling and important contributions to the debate. The courage of the opposition movement was brought out. It has been pointed out that the economy is slipping back to least-developed status. The importance of South Africa’s role in its policy towards Zimbabwe and what might be the British Government’s influence on that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Acton. Those are all very important factors that I know the Minister will address in his response.

Zimbabwe is a country whose economy is now ruined, where unemployment and poverty are rampant and politically inspired thuggery, crime and repression are endemic. As noble Lords have mentioned, the annual inflation rate is again more than 1,000 per cent per annum and is predicted to reach 4,000 per cent per annum by the end of this year. Unemployment is at 80 per cent, with hundreds of thousands of skilled Zimbabweans having fled the country, while the people who remain are surviving mainly on grain handouts. It is a disastrous situation.

Zimbabwe today is a country facing economic meltdown, with less and less food, fuel, power, and water—and, under the current regime, less and less hope. The people of Zimbabwe may not have been able to vote freely and fairly to give their judgment on the regime through the ballot box, but nearly 1 million Zimbabweans have voted with their feet, leaving behind their country and the squalid mess created by the failed policies of a failed regime that is President Mugabe's Government.

For those in the diaspora who, having fled Zimbabwe, are trying to support families and relatives left behind, last week’s news from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will be particularly bleak. I understand that the licences of all money transfer agencies were cancelled with immediate effect. For the past two years, MTAs have provided a vital channel for expatriate workers to remit literally life-saving funds back to their families at home. The cancellation of MTA licences without warning has shocked the banking and financial services sector, and I understand that it has left many families who are dependent on money transfers from overseas facing destitution.

To add to the misery, last week also saw the introduction of massive, rolling power cuts across Zimbabwe. According to the Zimbabwean Herald of 10 October:

“Intermittent breakdowns, a dearth of foreign currency and coal shortages, have in the past few years, left Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority grappling with power supply problems and plunged the nation into an outcry”.

Those are the words of the Herald, not mine. The cutting off of the supply of vital remittance moneys, and the cutting off of the supply of heat, light and power are just more clear, stark examples of failure in domestic policy.

The country is sinking down to the level of a failing and bankrupt state, as noble Lords have mentioned. Where once Zimbabwe stood out among its neighbours as a model of economic and agricultural success, it now lies at the bottom of the heap of failing states. Let there be no doubt about those failures. They are entirely due to the actions of President Mugabe and his Government and are not due, as he continues to claim, to perfidious actions of the international community.

This may be wishful thinking, but is it any wonder that, according to a report from the Zimbabwean Central Intelligence Organisation, dated 9 October and apparently leaked to on-line media, the people of Zimbabwe are readier than ever before to join a popular revolt against President Mugabe's regime? That report comes just a year after security agencies began issuing similar warnings of civil revolt in Zimbabwe, which might well have the support of the police and security forces themselves. Of course, that may be wishful thinking and some sort of double game may well be going on.

With the situation in Zimbabwe becoming ever more volatile, there is clearly a huge danger of adding fuel to the flames should the UK seek to become directly involved. Zimbabwe's torment can be resolved safely only through the democratic process by the peoples of Zimbabwe. On 9 October, in reply to a Written Question, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who is here today, said:

“The problem of Zimbabwe is between its Government and its people. The solution is a Government working for, not against, the people”.—[Official Report, 9/10/06; col. WA 130.]

Those are fine sentiments to which I subscribe, but, as we all know, achieving the solution is elusive.

I hope that the Minister will say what in the Government’s view can be practically done to support civic society in Zimbabwe—where 80 per cent of people are unemployed—by assisting NGOs, charitable trusts and international trades unions to accumulate the resources they need to help the proposed new patriotic front to blossom. How can we support a properly resourced opposition to present a genuine opposition to ZANU-PF? Finally, how can we support an internationally sponsored effort to start negotiations in a transitional process and get the agreement of President Mugabe to leave when his term of office expires in 2008, perhaps through the appointment of an eminent persons group able to engage impartially with all sides in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, since we last debated Zimbabwe, conditions there have deteriorated dramatically. We have heard much about that tragic decline in today’s excellent debate. The time is now right for Her Majesty's Government to adopt a far more proactive approach. The crisis in Zimbabwe is a threat to the stability of southern Africa. It is draining the economic energy of the region and our aid budget. The international community has been happy for the United Kingdom to take a lead in providing emergency relief for the victims of the crisis. Perhaps we might also expect to offer a lead in finding the solution. After all, the causes are hardly a mystery. They are political and manmade—largely made by one man: Robert Mugabe. His regime has been shored up by collaborators—some guilty, some gullible, some in Zimbabwe and some in the international community.

It is disappointing that our diplomatic representatives have to spend so much time persuading member states not to undermine the EU sanctions and travel ban targeted at individuals closely associated with the Zimbabwean regime. Nations hoping to promote their own interests by weakening the impact of those measures seem to show least support for the people of Zimbabwe in terms of aid and humanitarian support.

The people of the UK have given massive support to the people of Zimbabwe. Together with the United States we have, over the past six years, provided humanitarian aid that has fed, at times, more than one-third of the population. It is therefore particularly sickening that almost every time Mugabe speaks in public, he denigrates the UK and the US. For far too long Robert Mugabe has been allowed to set the agenda. The international community has largely been coerced into silence by Mugabe’s regional apologists. The response of Her Majesty's Government has been timid and lacking in conviction.

In 2001, we had high hopes when the Prime Minister told us that he had agreed a deal with Africa. In exchange for more aid and a debt write-off, he told us that Africa promised true democracy, no more excuses for dictatorship and no abuse of human rights. Sadly, for Zimbabwe, that is an unfulfilled promise. I do not single out Zimbabwe simply because it is the focus of our discussions. In that 2001 speech at the Labour Party conference, the Prime Minister singled out Mugabe when he said that there should be,

“no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states, to the activities of Mr Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe”.

Recent events have reminded the world what is really happening in Zimbabwe. The ILO and the TUC have condemned the Government in Zimbabwe. Ministers have issued strong statements and stern rebukes. I hope that a corner has now been turned. I also hope that the Minister will tell the House that the Government are preparing to give a clear lead in calling on the international community to take up its responsibility to protect the people of Zimbabwe. Through direct contact with our partners and regional leaders a process can be started, which will be welcomed by the people of Zimbabwe. We must help them to deal with the disease that is destroying their country. When the Prime Minister announced his deal with Africa he said that progress could be achieved if we find the will. I am afraid that, to date, as regards Zimbabwe, his will has been lacking.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on having introduced this important debate. It is timely, but, tragically, debates on Zimbabwe are always timely. I also add my gratitude to all other noble Lords who have spoken, for their continued engagement and interest in resolving this crisis. I join the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, in his congratulations to the wide spectrum of organisations in Zimbabwe on the way in which they have sustained the struggle in very difficult circumstances. It is right that we should acknowledge it. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in commending many of those who have maintained their dynamism in the most adverse circumstances.

Let me deal immediately with some of the points that have been put. I understand the argument for trying to engage the international community in the responsibility to protect, which the Government took a major part in helping to design for the United Nations. It is a sign of the creative thinking of the House that we have turned to it. This is no easy matter. The first attempt to get the international community to engage with a responsibility to protect—in Security Council Resolution 1706 on Darfur—took a huge amount of work. Even then, three abstentions were visible in the most appalling of circumstances—two were fortunately abstentions rather than votes against by veto-carrying members of the permanent membership of the Security Council. If we can drive this policy through on Darfur, we will have taken an extremely large step forward. I do not believe that there is at the moment the basis for even that degree of support in the Security Council. I would hate to hand Mugabe another victory of that kind until we can drive it through successfully.

I commend the realism shown by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for the difficulties inside Zimbabwe in making progress. But I continue to believe that there is a lot that we can do and that we should do it. Of course, the general election in 2008 will, I hope, be a clean election, not a rigged election or an election characterised by the kinds of unreasonable pressure that have been put on people in other elections, and I hope that that election goes ahead and is on time.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, is, like me, a student of Labour Party conferences and the speeches made. I do not truly accept that we are timid, but I acknowledge how hard it is to find the levers that work, because they are what we need. We consistently try to find where we can identify the forces for change. The noble Lord quite rightly reminds us of the deal on Africa, which has produced a degree of movement—not enough, but, I repeat, a degree of movement—among some heads of African states, to which I shall return.

I share the concerns across the Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, Zimbabwe is a failing state. Despite abundant rains, the World Food Programme reckons that nearly 2 million people will face hunger in the coming months; I believe that the figure will be larger than that. Poverty deepens, more and more people are unable to afford the food that is available and 80 per cent of the population are unemployed, many of whom are in jobs that earn way below the bread-line. As has been pointed out, official inflation is at 1,200 per cent and rising: in reality, it is probably almost twice that figure now. The IMF has suggested that without reform, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, it will reach 4,000 per cent by the beginning of 2007. This is an economy that has collapsed.

There are widespread shortages of basic food commodities and fuel, and constant interruptions in the supply of electricity and water. Three million people—one-quarter of the population—have already fled the country. For those who are left behind, as we have heard in the debate, life expectancy is the lowest in the world, and it is getting worse: 34 for women and 37 for men. Yet, despite all that, the Government of Zimbabwe refuse to acknowledge that they have any responsibility.

The Government ignore international calls for reform and crack down on the attempts of ordinary Zimbabweans to raise their concerns about the situation, most recently, as we saw, in the brutal suppression of a demonstration held by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on 30 September. So I share the view that it is a failing state, as I share the view that the world trade union movement, which has a fine history in this respect, will respond to what has happened with practical help, as it has historically elsewhere. I join others in congratulating my honourable friend Kate Hoey on the support she has given recently to the trade unions and others.

However, I have also noted the way in which Zimbabweans have blamed others for the crisis they have brought upon themselves. Joseph Made, the agriculture Minister, who has presided over the collapse, in the past has blamed falling production in agriculture on helicopter pilots who flew too high and as a result could not distinguish between maize and lush grass. He has blamed birds for consuming the harvest. Most recently he has said that the harvest as a whole failed because of a monkey. He said that investigations showed that a monkey dived into a transformer,

“and sabotaged our preparations for the coming season”.

That is the reason given for the failure of the harvest. The saddest thing of all is that when this was reported to the Zimbabwean Parliament, it was accepted without demur. That tells a story in itself. The monkey, of course, has taken its secrets to the grave.

Most Zimbabweans understand these problems very well. They understand the solutions that are required. Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I pay tribute to them because they have always grasped these facts. Many even in ZANU-PF know that the party must change or it will lose everything. They see the manifest absurdity of the mistakes that were described so vividly by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. But Mugabe still opposes reform and Zimbabweans need to move beyond his leadership or they will decline, and the decline will accelerate. I also recognise, because it is important, that there is increasing militarisation throughout the Zimbabwean economy, with military people taking up command roles in the economy. In my view that reflects the dependence of this regime—an increasing dependence—on the military for its security.

How should we respond? Mugabe continues to describe the crisis as a bilateral issue backed, as he argues, by illegal “economic sanctions”. It is not a bilateral issue and there are no economic sanctions. The crisis in Zimbabwe is caused by bad governance and bad policies. The crisis is between a dictatorial regime and a subjugated people, and it can only be reversed by significant political reform, including the repeal of damaging legislation on human and property rights, as noble Lords have said, together with a comprehensive economic reform package as already set out by the IMF. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked what we are doing. I can tell him that one of the things we have been doing is to take part in the design of some of the programmes which we believe, if they could be accepted, would make a fundamental difference—and to provide those to the international community and the opposition. But I think it is recognised that much of the reform effort necessarily still has to come from within Zimbabwe. International pressure should be maintained to encourage the Government to heed some voices of reason. Many of those voices will come from within Zimbabwe and we will continue to encourage and assist if we can human rights defenders and those working for democratic change, in concert with the EU, the UN and other international partners. Further, I can assure the House that our embassy in Zimbabwe, often working in great difficulty, works on this project all the time. We have heard David Coltart and others from the Zimbabwean opposition expressing similar views in London recently.

I do not think that Zimbabwe will ever go off the international radar screen, as I emphasised in my Statement on 14 September after the crackdown on the union demonstrations. I add that my right honourable friend Ian McCartney summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador and told him in the strongest possible terms that it will not go off the radar screen that these are our concerns, and the EU joined us in making those criticisms.

Concern has been expressed about Africa’s response to the crisis. I have said before in the House that we press Africa to do more. After all, the impact of the collapse of Zimbabwe on the region has been huge. Hunger-fuelled migration is causing problems and regional trade has been affected. The Zimbabwe Research Initiative has estimated that between 2000 and 2002 the economic crisis in the country cost SADC in the region of $2.5 billion. If that was carried through to the present day, South Africa’s economy, had it been able to help to resolve this problem, would be 3 per cent bigger than it is. Above all, Africa’s credibility is at stake in promoting good governance as set out in NePAD and the Commission for Africa. African credibility will be damaged unless it is possible to confront the problems of Zimbabwe.

Africa is increasingly frustrated. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and my noble friend Lord Acton both raised questions about South Africa. The South African deputy Foreign Minister has said that his Government are concerned not only about the effects on the people of Zimbabwe but also about the impact on the region as a whole. Indeed, the hastening economic implosion will see millions of people trying to cross the Limpopo in search of food and a degree of security. I should say to my noble friend Lord Acton that we hold talks with South African representatives all the time, and we have seen some pressure begin to be put on through the IMF.

My Lords, with respect to my noble friend, I did not ask about talking to South Africa; I asked Her Majesty’s Government to do everything possible to persuade South Africa to put maximum pressure on ZANU-PF.

My Lords, the way we can try to put on maximum pressure is by having a continuous dialogue with South Africa and seeking to persuade it.

My Lords, that was not my question. The question was that Her Majesty’s Government should do everything possible to persuade South Africa to put maximum pressure on ZANU-PF.

My Lords, I shall not try to repeat the point I have made. We try to persuade it, and that is done by talking.

Tanzania has raised its concerns about the situation, as have others. In his remarks the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made sure that we inject some realism into what we think is possible. However, as we have just heard once more, I note that some noble Lords may believe that not enough pressure has been put on Africa to deal with Zimbabwe. It is raised at every opportunity and I will not go through the whole of the list of the occasions on which it has been raised, but I shall give an example. Zimbabwe was central to our approach at the African Union summit in Banjul this summer, where every South African and other leader present found that we were talking about these issues and urging specifics. So change, while hard to get, I believe is possible and we must continue to pursue it.

Like many in the House I was also disappointed that Mugabe blocked the visit to Zimbabwe of the UN Secretary-General. It would have been an important initiative in the last period of Kofi Annan’s work as Secretary-General. I hope that the new Secretary-General will take up the portfolio, but he may well find that the door is as firmly slammed in his face as it was in Kofi Annan’s.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to ask a question. How do we explain the fact that the Commission for Africa, in 461 pages, says nothing about Zimbabwe? Has that situation changed?

My Lords, the United Nations, the Commission for Africa and everyone else has consistently worked to try to bring about a change in attitude within the African Union and elsewhere to Zimbabwe. Efforts have been made in all of those settings in order to get accurate reports of the disastrous policies and the particular assaults that have been launched against the people of Zimbabwe as part of the human rights perspective which has to be corrected. We will continue to do that.

Briefly, the UK has pressed for and achieved at the UN a firm reference to Zimbabwe in the EU’s general statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As many noble Lords have noted, we are engaged in providing humanitarian help. We believe that the UN must become more engaged politically; the situation in Zimbabwe merits United Nations Security Council consideration and the collapse makes it more urgent. We also took the opportunity to raise Zimbabwean issues in the UNSC in September following the general humanitarian briefing by Jan Egeland, which was also mentioned in the debate. We will continue to look for opportunities to ensure that Zimbabwe remains on the Security Council agenda. However, sanctions must continue. This involves not just Portugal but quite a number of countries. All sorts of reasons are produced on the day, but we are determined to fight hard to keep the sanctions in place.

There are prospects and difficulties in this crisis and there is a range of views among our partners as to how best to address it. We need to ensure that those views include tough sanctions. I am clear that for democracy to be reinvented and reintroduced in the country, it is vital that the trade unions, the Churches and civil society organisations get the vigorous help that they need from us. I commend the TUC on its decision to hold a conference on 4 November; I believe that it will be of great help.

The victims of Mugabe’s self-inflicted crisis in Zimbabwe are Zimbabweans—the vulnerable, the homeless, the orphans, the hungry and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. I am proud that our Government has addressed those questions through DfID and have provided more than £38 million of humanitarian support in the last financial year alone to improve food security for 1.5 million of the poorest people in the world.

At UNGA this year, Mugabe warned the west that every Goliath has its David. He has continued to use his political weight in the country to oppress and bully his people into apparent submission, but he should heed his own words: let this David tell him that his policy is creating millions of Davids within Zimbabwe and millions more in the diaspora. He should reflect on that. The time for his regime has gone.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.43 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.41 to 2.43 pm.]