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Volume 690: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

My Lords, I beg leave to repeat the Statement made by my right honourable friend Ian McCartney in another place.

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I wish to make a Statement on Zimbabwe.

“As the Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday, what is happening in Zimbabwe is appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for its people. My noble friend Lord Triesman, Minister for Africa, on 12 March noted that this was a direct consequence of Mugabe’s own approach and disregard for the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. What we are seeing is a wilful waste of Zimbabwe’s assets and potential by a ZANU-PF Government who have substituted plunder and corruption for a programme of economic and social advancement for their people.

“For millions of Zimbabweans, hunger and malnutrition are all that they now experience in their daily lives. Mugabe and his regime are directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s economy being in free fall. Its economy shrank 40 per cent in less than a decade and will shrink a further 5 per cent this year. Inflation is already 3,000 per cent and the IMF says it will breach 5,000 per cent this year.

“Mugabe and his regime are directly responsible for a situation where one-quarter of the resident population is dependent on food aid and where one-quarter of the population has fled the country. They are directly responsible for an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent—the third highest in the world. Little wonder that there has been an exodus over the Limpopo river. They are directly responsible for Zimbabwe having the world’s highest rate of orphans, largely as a consequence of the pandemic AIDS rate; roughly 20 per cent of adults are infected. They are directly responsible, let me tell the House, for a situation in which Zimbabweans can expect to die younger than anyone else on the planet. A Zimbabwean woman today can expect to live to just 34 years of age.

“And yet, despite all this, instead of taking the necessary measures to reverse each of these evolving tragedies, the regime continues to make people homeless, suppress independent media, harass human rights defenders and arbitrarily arrest those involved in peaceful demonstrations.

“The violence and repression used against peaceful protestors, gathering to pray for change on the weekend of 10 to 11 March, during which at least one young person was shot and killed, has continued unabated. Four MDC opposition members have been prevented from leaving Zimbabwe, including one MDC MP—Nelson Chamisa—travelling to a meeting in Brussels, who was badly beaten. I am pleased to see that the MDC vice-president, Thoko Khupe MP, was able to take his place. We salute his bravery and that of his colleagues.

“Significant numbers of activists are still being arrested and beaten across Zimbabwe. Lawyers representing those who have been detained have themselves faced intimidation. Trade union and student union members have also been harassed and arrested. My noble friend Lord Triesman summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to register our disgust.

“As I did during my address to the Human Rights Council on 13 March, I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of those killed and injured in the past two weeks’ terrible assault, and I offer my solidarity to all Zimbabweans. Mugabe’s men might break the bones of the democracy campaigners but they cannot break the quiet dignity of these extraordinary human beings. One day, Zimbabwe will return to democracy. Mugabe knows this. He knows that he has got it wrong, and that the crisis has resulted in an increase in internal pressure. He feels more vulnerable. The involvement of the military in almost all aspects of Zimbabwe life, from running state businesses through economic programmes to agriculture and food distribution, underlines this.

“What does Mugabe do? He blames it on everyone else and especially on us. He persistently alleges that the UK is responsible for Zimbabwe’s woes; that we are somehow victimising him for his disastrous fast-track land reform policies. This is simply not true. We have always recognised the need for an equitable redistribution of land, but this has to be done in a transparent, legal manner. We signed up to all three of the internationally recognised land reform packages in 1979, 1998, and 2001. The United Kingdom gave a total of £44 million to the first of these; about £3 million was returned unspent in the mid-1990s when the Zimbabwe Government lost interest in land reform. We were also willing to support the package put together by the United Nations Development Programme in 2001, but Mugabe’s violent land invasions put a halt to that.

“Let us look for a moment at Mugabe’s claims that the crisis is down to us. It was the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who displaced and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 700,000 people during Operation Murambatsvina. It was the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who previously refused to appeal to the UN for food aid despite widely reported food shortages. It was the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who crushed a free media. It is the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who deny Zimbabweans their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly by routinely and violently breaking up peaceful protests. It is the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who ignored IMF recommendations to reform an imploding economy. It is the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who continue to squander Zimbabwe’s limited foreign exchange while ordinary Zimbabweans can scarcely afford food. It is the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who destroyed property rights by removing land from the legal process. It is the Government of Zimbabwe, not the United Kingdom, who ruined the Zimbabwean agricultural sector. Agricultural productivity has fallen by 80 per cent compared to 1998 levels. Since 2000, more than 250,000 black commercial farm workers have lost their livelihoods. With families, this means a rural displacement of about a million people, to match the urban dislocation of 700,000 caused by Operation Murambatsvina.

“Of course, while the Government of Zimbabwe continue to blame the international community, the European Union and the UK Government for their troubles, in each case action is being taken to improve life on the ground in Zimbabwe. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said last week, there is considerable concern across the international community about the situation in Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom is greatly concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, but those concerns are shared by the whole European Union, by the African Union—sadly, those concerns have not always been expressed as loudly as they might be—by the United Nations and by the whole international community.

“Ministers and officials are in constant contact with our African counterparts, emphasising the risks to regional stability and the importance of Zimbabwe’s African neighbours taking a more direct role in addressing the crisis in Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister last week wrote to President Mbeki and spoke with President Kikwete of Tanzania on this issue. We recognise the difficulties of challenging Mugabe bilaterally, but without the engagement of the Southern African Development Community, with its commitment to promoting good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law, the situation will deteriorate further.

“We therefore welcomed the visit of the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, President Kikwete of Tanzania, to Harare on 15 March. With President Mbeki of South Africa, he proposed an initiative to encourage internal dialogue between ZANU-PF and MDC and policy reform. But quick progress is necessary for this to have impact. Mugabe is a master of denial and delay. The Zambian President recently called Zimbabwe a ‘sinking Titanic’—an apt expression indeed.

“On the European Union, despite the claims of Mugabe about ‘illegal economic sanctions’ imposed by the EU, let us be clear: the EU has no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. These exist only in Mugabe’s mind. The EU does not prevent ‘western’ companies, including British ones, from doing business with Zimbabwe, which actually has a trade surplus with the United Kingdom.

“The EU does have an arms sales ban, a travel ban and an assets freeze on leading members of the regime. But while those targeted measures have had no impact on the Zimbabwean economy, they show that the EU is serious about human rights. Zimbabwean civil society organisations support those measures because they are focused on the destroyers of Zimbabwean society, not on its suffering people.

“As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary told the House on Tuesday, and the Prime Minister repeated the next day, we will look to add to those targeted measures. We are pushing for, and expect, progress on the addition of extra names to the EU visa ban list. Again, we are pressurising the regime, but without impacting ordinary Zimbabweans.

“On the actions of the United Kingdom Government, let the House be clear: we are doing all we can to relieve the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. The United Kingdom is one of the three largest donors to Zimbabwe and, contrary to the claims of some, that money is making a real difference to the lives of ordinary people in Zimbabwe. For some, that money is quite likely to be the difference between life and death, and this House should be proud of that contribution.

“In the past five years, the Department for International Development has committed more than £143 million for humanitarian programmes, including food aid, lifesaving vaccines, support for orphans and vulnerable children and agricultural inputs to the poorest farmers. We have also provided £37 million since 2000 to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Of the €200 million given by the EU last year, the UK alone disbursed nearly €60 million, or £40 million, in bilateral assistance; hardly the actions of a country not interested in the affairs of Zimbabwe, far less one with a bilateral grievance.

“As the Foreign Secretary made clear on Tuesday, our aid is channelled through the UN and NGO agencies to escape the clutches of the regime. I stress that our food aid is not a part of the ZANU-PF programme to use food as a means to force support or to punish opposition. It is also clear that not only are innocent Zimbabweans suffering, but the tragedy in Zimbabwe is having a significant impact on the region, both direct with mass migration and in the consequent social impact of HIV, malnutrition, safety, the education of children, and so on. As Zimbabwe disintegrates, those impacts will increase.

“The United Kingdom shares the region’s desire to see Zimbabwe’s recovery; there is no other UK agenda. Our concerns are for the ordinary Zimbabweans and their suffering at the hands of a regime that is determined to pursue policies that hurt rather than help them. We stand ready to help, with our international partners, but only when there is an environment in Zimbabwe where that assistance will be effective.

“Until the Zimbabwean regime changes course, we will maintain the international spotlight on Zimbabwe and increase Mugabe’s isolation. In that vein, I welcome France’s decision not to invite Mugabe to its February France/Africa summit. That sent a clear signal that his woeful governance will not be tolerated. But, as I and others, including the Prime Minister, have made clear, the Zimbabwean crisis cannot be solved by the United Kingdom. Those sentiments have been echoed by the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who told the BBC on 18 March:

‘I have repeatedly said that the British government cannot be seen to be at the forefront in confronting Robert Mugabe, alone. I’ve always said that that would be misconstrued as a colonial resuscitation of the same situation again. So I always say that Britain together with the rest of the international community, the African Union, and the rest of the international community have to act together’.

“So we in this House and elsewhere must be careful that, while expressing our outrage at recent events and at the downward spiral of Zimbabwe, we do not do or say anything that will hand a propaganda tool to Robert Mugabe.

“So we will continue to exert pressure in international fora. That includes the United Nations—we expect a tough EU statement on the Human Rights Council this week and a humanitarian briefing on the UN Security Council next week—and the African Union, the European Union and with international partners until democracy is restored in Zimbabwe.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that whoever governs Zimbabwe does so in a way that guarantees a better future for Zimbabweans: a democratic and accountable Government and policies that ensure economic stability and development, not humanitarian misery.

“Mr Speaker, my generation was the first to be born not as children of the empire but as children of the Commonwealth. When I was first becoming involved in political life, the struggle against colonialism and the struggle of the peoples in southern Africa who were subjugated by racist regimes were an inspiration. As time went by we celebrated as Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and the fighters came out from the bush to create a new democratic future for their people. That is why it is so hard for me personally to watch what is happening in Zimbabwe today—because, uniquely, the people whom we once cheered as liberators are now the oppressors who have taken away the voice of the Zimbabwean people.

“Brave Zimbabweans are speaking up for their freedom. They are looking to their African neighbours to help. We are playing our part in the international community. In 1980, Zimbabwe proudly proclaimed its independence. Tragically, 27 years later, its people have still to gain their freedom”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for repeating the Statement. Noble Lords’ minds will obviously also be on another crisis; namely, the detention—illegally, it seems—of our servicemen by the Government of Iran. While we fully appreciate the delicacy and sensitivity of the position on that crisis and in any negotiations going on with Iran, can we be assured that the House will be kept fully up to date on that crisis as it unfolds?

I turn to Zimbabwe, where we have an appalling situation. Vicious attacks on the opposition there have focused world attention as never before on what has been happening for a long time. We heard today a very long, heavily descriptive and very full Statement. I will concentrate mainly on the way forward—on the action needed.

Is it not crystal clear that the previous policy of quiet diplomacy has failed? Frankly, some of us warned all along that it would do. The background now is of rising violence, desperate food shortages and starvation, massive refugee movements and a completely collapsed currency. Money has, in effect, died. The breakdown of law and order cannot, I am afraid, be very far behind; that is what the lessons of history tell us. Does the Minister accept that the Zimbabwean opposition is still—against all the odds and with great courage—very much alive, has been re-energised and needs to be given every possible support and encouragement?

Has not the time come to mobilise the whole international community with far more vigour than hitherto? Has the Minister noted that the African Union has at last acknowledged the horror of what is going on? It admitted—in a masterly understatement—that it is embarrassed by the hideous developments in Zimbabwe. Should we not now press on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, with renewed energy and in detailed discussions, the consequences of inaction and the need for a co-ordinated strategy? Is it not time to urge South Africa once more to face up to reality before it, too, is destabilised by Zimbabwe’s collapse, of which there is a growing danger? Incidentally, were these issues discussed in the informal EU summit at the weekend? I wonder whether anything constructive came out of that.

Should we not now offer to mediate between the parties and propose a whole sequence of benchmarks, beginning with the exit of Robert Mugabe, of whom even ZANU-PF—his own party—has clearly had enough? It made that very clear. I know that Mr Mugabe’s plan to carry on at the age of 83 may bring hope to some but it could bring to the people of Zimbabwe only the most crushing further misery.

Could we not now set out a process leading eventually, and positively, to a full resumption of transition and reconstruction aid and the eventual lifting of targeted sanctions, and, in the mean time, continue to operate them very toughly—perhaps more so than is the case at present? Indeed, should not the removal of sanctions and restrictions be made contingent on following through with carefully worked out steps towards free elections and the adoption of economic reforms necessary to alleviate this grim crisis?

The UK should offer to assist that process financially and logistically. On this side, we understand past international reticence to involve ourselves in what was deemed to be a purely African matter. But is it not now time to cut through all the hand wringing and apologies and take a bold initiative with our friends and colleagues the world over in the Commonwealth—once again, it was not mentioned but it is increasingly a centre of power and influence—the European Union and the United Nations Security Council in saving this nation from utter destruction and in building a new constitution and a new settlement, which will replace horror and starvation with peace and prosperity?

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Minister’s Statement, too. I find myself very much in agreement with the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The Statement was clearly designed more for the international community’s ears than for ours in this Parliament, but it was none the worse for that because that is where action is now to take place.

Will the Minister note that in recent days a number of statements have been made by leaders in the Southern African Development Community? He mentioned the President of Zambia but also included are the Prime Minister of Mauritius, the former President of Malawi, the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, and the President of Ghana, who is the current chairman of the African Union. That seems to suggest that there is a growing awakening in Africa not just about the damage that Mr Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe but about the damage that Zimbabwe is doing to the rest of Africa and, in particular, to the southern African region. As the Minister said in the Statement, some 25 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population has already left, and I have seen for myself the impact that that is having on its neighbours in Botswana, Zambia and South Africa in particular. The number of political and economic refugees is now becoming an intolerable burden on those countries.

I welcome the initiative that President Kikwete of Tanzania is taking, but does the Minister accept that this is not the first time that efforts have been made to get the opposition and ZANU-PF together? It was a private initiative, but President Mbeki has tried it in the past and has, I am afraid, failed to secure any progress from the Zimbabwean Government. We must hope that this new initiative will be more successful than the previous efforts.

There is some speculation about what has happened to President Mugabe. Perhaps I may tell noble Lords of an episode that I recall very well. The day after the independence ceremonies, at which I was part of the delegation, I went to see Mr David Smith. He had been the economics Minister in the Ian Smith regime and, very sensibly, President Mugabe kept him on in that role to secure economic confidence in the country. I distinctly remember Mr Smith saying to me, “I want you to know, Mr Steel, that I have served under four Prime Ministers in this country, and Mr Mugabe is not only the most able but he is also the most courteous”.

So what has gone wrong? One theory among those who know him far better than I do is that, following the death of his wife, Sally, he became, to put it politely, somewhat unhinged, and his behaviour became very much more erratic and dictatorial. We have to recognise that nothing will change in Zimbabwe until Mr Mugabe has gone from office. For that reason, we need to encourage not just the opposition but people from within his own party, who, according to reports, are now beginning to realise that life cannot go on under him. Therefore, any pressure that can be brought to bear on Mr Mugabe will be welcome.

The Minister may know that the University of Edinburgh is now contemplating removing the doctorate that we gave him back in the mid-1980s—that is long overdue. But much more important are things such as the travel ban, which is now going to be imposed in France. That was not the case the last time an African summit was held there, as I think that President Mugabe was present, and the ban has been accidentally broken in Belgium. The tightening of that sanction will bring pressure to bear on the whole Zimbabwean regime, increase the possibility of a split in ZANU-PF and encourage those who will have a dialogue with the opposition to bring about a new era of stability and hope in Zimbabwe. That should be the direction of our policy.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Steel of Aikwood, for their comments and their focused questions. In response to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about Iran, I know from first hand that negotiations are at a very delicate stage. I assure the House that noble Lords will be kept up to date. I shall try to do that without jeopardising the negotiations, as I want to secure the release of those being held.

On Zimbabwe, I do not believe, as I have said in the House on a number of occasions, that the quiet diplomacy of southern Africa has had an impact. Indeed, during the course of the quiet diplomacy period things have got worse rather than better. If the outcomes are a measure of success, there is a lack of any obvious success. It has sometimes been said of us that we engage in megaphone diplomacy and that that will not work. I have made it very plain—I hope that the House will agree with the approach—that we cannot let some things go; we have to comment on them, as they are an outrage and an affront to any kind of decent society. I shall continue to urge that on leaders in southern Africa, even if that has not been their tradition and they feel uncomfortable about it. I believe that it is right for us to do so.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the MDC is alive and, despite the injuries suffered by some of its leaders, in remarkably good heart. Of course, it is vital that behind it and behind any splits in ZANU-PF, which may turn out to be the more significant of the forces at play, the whole community is mobilised. In particular, I mention not just the community that is referred to most often, but also Archbishop Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, whose personal leadership and heroism I believe are of the very first rank. He and the church have provided an incredibly important umbrella for the redevelopment of a democratic space. I applaud that and the absolute decency and humanity of the way in which he has done it. He has been one of the inspirations that has helped to move the African Union in the recent past.

We will press the neighbours, particularly South Africa, because of its influence in the region. I can report that the issues were discussed at the EU summit in a rather more positive way than we had thought might happen, given that some people want to move towards a relaxation—what has been described as a reopening of dialogue. However, as noble Lords will have seen from the Statement, that is not how we read the situation. We shall certainly want to pursue this with South Africa.

It has been put to me that the United Kingdom should mediate between the parties. That is difficult because Morgan Tsvangirai has, in terms, asked us not to play that kind of leading role. There is a delicate choice here. I respect the point that is being made and I do not speak of it dismissively at all. One needs to strike a difficult balance between trying to do what people on the ground think is most helpful and trying to do what we, in this House, feel in our hearts is right. I hope that we get that balance right.

On a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, we are trying to ensure that we discuss the issues with everyone, right across the region—with Mauritius, certainly with Ghana, which holds the chairmanship of the African Union, with Aziz Pahad, the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, with President Kikwete and with others—because, as there is visible movement, we need them to carry that movement forward. This is the first real indication that we have had of momentum and we must encourage it.

The essential issue of how to move back to the full resumption of some sort of normality when the opportunity occurs was at the heart of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said. I assure the House that I cannot conceive of circumstances in which the sanctions will be removed unless there is absolute agreement and the beginnings of delivery—not words on paper—of the fundamental changes in policy on democratic practice, elections and the economic reforms that are needed to get people back to where they can live some sort of life and be fed. Sanctions can be relaxed only in exchange for real change on the ground. We regard fundamental change as critical.

As the noble Lord said, that will take bold initiatives. The EU can certainly play a role. The UN is also being invited to play a role, as I said in repeating the Statement of my right honourable friend Ian McCartney. The Commonwealth has a role, too; it has not wanted to revisit Zimbabwe after it found that that was almost all that was discussed two conferences ago. None the less, there is a role, and I shall continue to urge that we should not be squeamish about playing it.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel: the opposition and ZANU-PF must work together for the whole thing to work. That is what the pressure in the African Union is now for. South Africa has held direct bilateral discussions with the opposition for the first time in a long time. I venture the opinion—it is no more than that—that the splits and divisions in ZANU-PF might turn out to be decisive. A number of its members must be looking at their future and coming to the conclusion that they do not have one so long as they are prepared to back Mugabe.

I have been careful not to comment on Mugabe’s own future, other than to say that there must be a fundamental change in policy. Every pressure to get that change in policy is needed. Somebody replacing Mugabe who pursued the same policies would be of no use to anybody. I would guess that Mugabe would not find it easy to live with that fundamental policy change, but that is what is central to the work.

I was greatly encouraged by the fact that France took the view that it should impose the travel ban for the most recent conference, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, pointed out. He is right that some people got into Belgium by accident. I greatly regret that, and there have been discussions about how Europe can be more attentive in ensuring that that does not happen. However, these bans and their effect are clearly to the disadvantage of that regime and they isolate it. We will work hard not only to keep that travel ban resolute, but to add to it all those who have visited still more terrifying violence on the people of Zimbabwe in recent weeks. None of them can act with impunity.

My Lords, first, as somebody who has spent much of his life in Zimbabwe, I thank Britain for the generous aid that it has given to Zimbabweans over these terrible years. Secondly, the Statement uses the phrase:

“Until the Zimbabwean regime changes course”.

If a successor to President Mugabe comes from the ZANU-PF politburo, they will have been, at the minimum, a party to ghastly decisions and may well have done far more horrific things. Will the Government give support even to such a successor, provided that Zimbabwe changes course in an acceptable direction?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question and his statement about aid. As I said in repeating the Statement, our intention has always been to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe do not continue to suffer from the misrule that they are subjected to—that is suffering too much in any event. We will continue with our aid programme. I am eager to see whether we can step it up, particularly in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is a particularly severe challenge to the future of the country.

It is our intention to secure a change of course. Like everybody else, we would rather that that was in the hands of a group of leaders who are not stained with the crimes of the past. We will need to see how the leadership of all the elements, including the opposition, decides that it can construct the new constitution, and we will need to respect the outcome of elections. In this dispensation, there must be elections. The people of Zimbabwe must, for the first time in a long time, have the opportunity to choose the Government and the leaders whom they want. They have not been able to do that freely for generations.

My Lords, the Minister spoke about the momentum that he and many others are trying to build in the direction that we all favour. What about the people who are still pulling in the other direction? Why have the Government of Angola in recent days vehemently come out in favour of Mugabe and against any pressure on him? What can the Minister say about the attitude of China? British diplomacy has been successful in, for example, mobilising the Chinese to vote for the last resolution on Iran, although the record on Sudan is not so good. China may now be playing quite a big role in these matters, so are we discussing them with the Government in Beijing? If so, what is the result?

My Lords, I, too, fret about what Angola is doing. However, the most bizarre claim made in Harare last week was that the Angolans were about to provide an armed gendarme force. Within minutes of that claim being made, the Angolans were in touch to say that it was false—a complete fantasy. We need to talk to them a bit more to be clear that we understand their attitude. I say that not because I am not cautious about it, but precisely because I am cautious about it.

We discuss these issues directly with the Chinese all the time. I have discussed these issues at great length with their ambassadors when we have all met during African Union conferences, where they see what is happening in a more general sense. I do not want to overstate this, but I believe that there is now an inclination on their part to wonder whether their investments in a number of places are secure. As we see meltdown in those places, a number of people are saying to them, “You cannot possibly think you can rely on the resources that you think you’ve bought and the methods that you think you have for extracting them, given the political and economic deterioration of the kind that you’re seeing”. I believe that that argument is beginning to take root.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I am pleased that my noble friend’s efforts over previous months have begun to bear fruit in that SADC and the African Union have at last begun to make it clear that they are against what is happening in Zimbabwe. But does my noble friend accept that there is a long way to go, especially since President Mugabe’s corrosive attacks regarding interference have a deeper resonance in southern Africa than we might imagine? I am delighted to hear that the story about Angolan troops going to Zimbabwe has proved untrue. That is marvellous news.

Does my noble friend agree that adopting the course suggested by the noble Lord on the opposition Benches—that we should seek to mediate between the parties in Zimbabwe—would be the last message we would want to send? It would confirm the view that we are interfering in Zimbabwean business and want to cut out the involvement of others in southern Africa. That may not be the case, but that is what would be suggested. The situation is so serious that movement must be made. We must not disparage efforts made in the past that have not succeeded.

We must encourage all those who are working together, because the Zimbabwean situation will be resolved only within Zimbabwe. In the days of the apartheid regime we argued that only the people of South Africa could resolve that situation. Only the Zimbabweans can resolve this situation, but they need our help and the help of the region and the international community. I wish my noble friend every success in getting that message across. At last, I think we can begin to see a chink of light.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hughes very much. We will as a Government persist in the work. He is right: we have to listen to what is being said to us by the leaders of the opposition just as we did when we listened to the leaders of the opposition forces in the South African context. I do not necessarily mean within South Africa, because many of those leaders had to flee the country. We need to listen to these leaders and do what we do in a way that is most helpful to them. Those are the forces which, when they come together, will form the new democratic system in Zimbabwe. I agree wholeheartedly that that is where our attention should be.

My Lords, my diocese is twinned with three dioceses in Zimbabwe and, over the years, there have been regular visits in both directions. A visit is planned for next month when two dozen people from the south of the diocese will go to Zimbabwe. Does the Minister think that is helpful or wise at the present time?

My Lords, I often advise people to read the Foreign Office website, “Know Before You Go”. So I do today, largely because circumstances change and places that look relatively calm can become extremely violent in a very short time. Up-to-date information is of the essence. I say to the right reverend Prelate that I believe that a number of forces—if that is the right word; most certainly including the churches—have had a significant impact on drawing together all the threads of the opposition. But I would urge him also to exercise great caution. We are now seeing a regime that is perfectly capable of inflicting serious personal harm on anybody who does not agree with it. That is not to dissuade him from going, but let us be very clear about it. Closer to the date I will add any information that I have that suggests whether there is too great a risk to be borne.

My Lords, will the Minister convey to the British ambassador in Harare the appreciation of your Lordships’ House for his and his staff’s steadfastness under fire in a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation? We understand that a more strident tone by the British Government in Zimbabwe might be politically counterproductive and put at risk the lives of the 12,000-odd United Kingdom citizens in Zimbabwe and the 400-odd people still farming there. Will he also accept our support in trying to stiffen the spine of the South African Government and other African Governments to bring their influence to bear on the Government of Zimbabwe in order to bring this period of suffering to an end?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. Andrew Pocock is indeed an exceptional diplomat and a very fine ambassador. He has been prepared to face great difficulty in conducting the United Kingdom’s mission. I have no doubt that he will be gratified by the sentiments of the House, which I will convey to him personally.

It is absolutely right to say that we have to be very cautious about the tone we use. I sometimes feel that I need to be cautious about the tone that I use. I feel so angry about it that at times I am not sure that I am necessarily adding exactly what is needed. I hope that I will be forgiven for that.

In the case of South Africa we will continue to argue, exert pressure and try to get a confluence of view. However, South Africa has probably moved more in the past fortnight as it has recognised the dangers flowing across its borders than we have seen it move in a very long time. My view is that up to 6 million people might go across the Limpopo. At that point there will be no food or security in northern South Africa; nor will there be security in a general sense because such a movement of people is a security issue for the region as well as a humanitarian issue.

My Lords, perhaps I may first say a word about the Iranian hostages. This morning, I spoke to the mother of one of our marines who is deeply anxious about the fate of her son but high in praise of the way in which the Ministry of Defence has communicated with her regularly throughout this crisis.

On Zimbabwe, clearly we must make an effort to understand the position of South Africa—perhaps its illusion—that the big tent which worked for it internally in the World Trade Centre is applicable to bringing together Mugabe and his opponents. Nevertheless, the words or the mood music of South Africa have changed, perhaps as it recognises the deep damage done to it and to the region by the Mugabe regime.

Can my noble friend say whether there is any evidence, apart from words of the African Union or South Africa, that there is any move into effective action in the key areas such as energy supply? Although one understands that the British Government’s policy will not change until there is a fundamental change in Zimbabwe itself, surely there should be some calibrated response along the line. Free elections are obviously a major staging post. Can he give an assurance that DfID and the FCO are ready to respond positively as soon as there are signs of real change in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, I give that assurance absolutely. We have been thinking very hard about what would happen at the point at which it is possible to make such moves. We have the architecture to do that and we would move as fast as we possibly could. In general, if I may answer the important points made by my noble friend Lord Anderson about other action, a significant number of the leaders of the African Union are not only now in constant touch with elements of both the Zimbabwean Government and the opposition but have said—in Harare and in terms—that this cannot go on and it is no longer credible that it should do so.

To be candid with the House, I do not yet know whether they are prepared to take other steps. There is caution about accelerating the point at which the movement of people across borders becomes so great that no one can deal with it. I understand why there is that anxiety. On the other hand, I also think that leaders of the African Union may very well react in a tough way when the new approaches that they are now making are rebuffed.

My Lords, the Minister rightly emphasised the importance of the role of both President Mbeki and the African Union. What discussions was he able to have with President John Kufuor in his capacity as chairman of the African Union during his recent state visit here? The Minister has laid a lot of emphasis on the importance of European Union countries imposing things such as travel restrictions, but Robert Mugabe was recently invited to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the independence of Ghana. Does he agree that if the African nations were to impose travel restrictions and make their views about the iniquities conducted by the Zimbabwean regime more clearly felt and known, that would have a much greater impact than European restrictions?

The Minister has rightly also mention the bravery of people such as Pius Ncube and Morgan Tsvangirai. Can he tell us anything about their current safety?

My Lords, President Kufuor had detailed discussions with several of us about the position. I have to say that it seems unlikely that the African Union will impose travel sanctions. Even if that would be desirable, it is not in its history; it has not done it with one or two dictators in Africa who ought never to have got where they did, let alone travel around. None the less, President Kufuor was clear about the embarrassment that is being caused and the need for an African Union response. He put that in pretty straightforward terms.

His organisation is faced with a number of huge challenges, frequently debated in this House, whether in the Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea on the border, or inside Somalia. We know of huge difficulties still in the Mano river basin, which is much closer to the President’s home patch. The African Union is very stretched in its resources. That is not an excuse, it is just a reflection of what it can and cannot do on a day-to-day basis.

On the overall position, Morgan Tsvangirai was seriously beaten and is, I think, gradually recovering. But as those who heard him on the “Today” programme will know, he is completely undaunted. He deserves our admiration, that’s for sure. I think that the Archbishop is not physically hurt or in physical danger, but from what I know of him, he will not be overly concerned. He will continue to do what he believes is right.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred to one of the reasons for Mugabe’s hostility to its existence. I heard some years ago from a source which I regarded as reliable that another reason was that when his son died in Ghana—he had a Ghanaian mother, as the House will know—Mugabe was refused permission by the then Government to attend the funeral. I cannot imagine anything more foolish than that and I can understand why that would make him very resentful.

I support those who have been making a point about the importance of the SADC countries. They are the closest and are not particularly stretched in the way that other countries may be. I emphasise the importance of the SADC countries getting involved; it will mean that Mbeki must take the lead, because nobody else in that group will.

In the hope that there may be better times to come, would it be good idea for the Government to plan on assisting the professional classes in particular, who are extremely important, most of whom have fled and are spread across the map, to get back to Zimbabwe?

My Lords, quite a lot of detailed planning is taking place to make sure that there is capacity in Zimbabwe for rebuilding, which would include the professionals and what remains of the middle classes—if I can use an old-fashioned expression—which were among the first to flee the country and have more or less vanished. We offer quite a lot of bilateral assistance, as we do to particular sectors, but that help has to happen more or less outside the country—it is very difficult to sustain it inside without putting those we want to help at still greater risk.

My Lords, is there any prospect that the Commonwealth—which, after all, cared about South Africa even though it was no longer in it—could be induced to set up a special fund outside Zimbabwe, available to civil society in Zimbabwe to draw upon? They will need money if they are to elect people and if they are even to maintain their present situation, and that money has to come from somewhere. If it came from the Commonwealth, that would be an entirely respectable and non-partisan area and would include all African countries. We should not confine ourselves to giving lots of splendid publicity and great admiration. We have to make it feasible for people to help themselves, and that seems to be one body that we could use to do it.

My Lords, I hope I have emphasised that in all our dealings with Zimbabwe, we have been prepared to spend quite large sums of money to support those activities that we believe are right. To be clear about HMG’s position, whether we were contributing through the Commonwealth or bilaterally, I have no doubt that we would wish to support the financial consequences of re-entering democratic life. The Commonwealth as a possible source is a very interesting idea; I do not know how it would be received but I am certainly willing to explore it.