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Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they are making to the Southern African Development Community about Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we have held frequent meetings with representatives of the Governments in the Southern Africa Development Community and with its executive secretary. In those discussions, we have welcomed the engagement of those states in attempting to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. As the Prime Minister said directly to President Mbeki, we believe that the crisis requires an African solution but one that can be delivered with the support of the international community. We have been clear that the ongoing state-sponsored violence must cease, that the rule of law must be respected and the upcoming elections must meet the norms and standards that SADC states have themselves set.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s reply. Is he aware that inflation in Zimbabwe has now reached 4,500 per cent and is rising increasingly rapidly, and that 34 well known international organisations have said that they believe that Zimbabwe will collapse within six months and then they will be unable to continue their work? As I think the noble Lord said, the mandate given to President Mbeki by SADC to facilitate negotiation is entirely an African venture, which is very useful. But is it not of considerable interest to the developed world if the venture fails, because it would have to pick up the bill? Will Her Majesty’s Government, via the Commonwealth and other international organisations, do their best to maintain international interest in finding a solution to the Zimbabwe problem?

My Lords, it is in everyone’s interests to do that, and the Government will do all we can to ensure that international pressure remains. I think that I said to the House some time ago that, when people talk about the Zimbabwean economy melting down, I took a different view: it has melted down. Many say that inflation will be 10,000 to 11,000 per cent at the end of the year; that is an exponential, not a straight-line increase, and no economy in the world has ever recovered of its own internal volition from such a crisis. After the deplorable policies of this regime have been extinguished, the rest of the world will have to pick that country up.

My Lords, considering that SADC and President Mbeki in particular have ignored the successive resolutions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the violation of the human rights of opposition parliamentarians, what hope is there that the current efforts by President Mbeki to negotiate a solution will be even-handed and will give the opposition a fair chance in any future electoral test? Does the noble Lord know anything about SADC’s policy on the millions of destitute refugees flooding into its countries and the destabilising effects on the whole region of the economic meltdown that he mentioned?

My Lords, some very poor countries in the region are absorbing and supporting a very large number of refugees with a great deal of pain. In a way, we all owe them a debt of thanks for what they are doing; they did not wish that on themselves. I do not want to say anything negative about President Mbeki’s efforts. He has made them on past occasions, and they have not been blessed with success, but he has managed to bring together for the first time in a very long time the opposition and representatives of the Government. My fear is that the perpetual violence visited on the opposition means that their capacity to take part in a free and fair election, should that be secured, will be so greatly diminished that they will never be on a level playing field.

My Lords, would the noble Lord care to comment on the interest that China is showing in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, to be candid, China’s interest has been essentially commercial, but we are also talking to it about those matters. Major international powers, of which China is one, have major international responsibilities.

My Lords, we cannot leave countries such as Zimbabwe in isolation. Is a change of policy in the offing to allow for constructive engagement by Her Majesty’s Government?

My Lords, our policy is as I have explained it to the House on a number of occasions. There will be no complicity with the current regime in Zimbabwe so long as it continues with the policies that it is following. We have not tried to insist on regime change; we have said that there has to be fundamental policy change, although Robert Mugabe might never be able to stomach that. It is an internal matter, but the policies have to change. This is the wreck of a nation that could be prosperous.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, during a recent visit to this country, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for more public figures to speak out against the situation in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, I am aware of that and it is clear to me that there would be considerable benefit if people did that. It is not just a matter for the political class, if I may put it that way; it is a matter for everyone who cares about having a decent society.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports of Mugabe paying off some of his Ministers by giving them tractors? Does he know where Mugabe got these tractors from and how much he is likely to have paid for them? Does anyone have any idea how much the Minister would like to be paid in tractors?

My Lords, I fear that most of my life has been so urban that I would not know what to do with one. I have of course read the stories to which the noble Duke refers, and it is the most short-term, benighted way of trying to deal with anything that I have ever heard of, not least because, as I understand it, in the modern period it is petrol rather than horses that make tractors go.

My Lords, will the Minister lend his authority to the Commonwealth putting Zimbabwe on the agenda for the forthcoming heads of government meeting? Are there not precedents for the Commonwealth to discuss former members under the Harare Declaration as it has been interpreted?

My Lords, let me be straightforward with the House on this matter. There is no desire at the Commonwealth conference to revisit the subject of Zimbabwe. The last time the question came up, it took over the entire agenda, and I think that poverty alleviation, trade and the Doha development round are closer to the forefront of people’s minds. However, I assure the House that, the moment there is the will and we can see a window of opportunity, I shall do my level best to ensure that it is on that agenda.