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Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the prospects for a resolution of the political, economic and human problems in Zimbabwe.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we can see now why Robert Mugabe’s representatives at the series of talks arranged by President Mbeki following the SADC meeting in March 2007 were so often late in arriving or said that they were unable to attend at all. It has been Mugabe’s objective right through the nine months of the infrequent talks to make the proceedings last as long as possible so that the new constitution which was eventually agreed would not come into force before the elections. That has now been achieved by Mugabe. The elections will take place at three levels and will now be held on 29 March this year.

The registration of candidates was originally to be completed this week; now it has been extended to next week. The new constitution has been initialled but not signed. ZANU-PF has clearly not been taken by surprise. It has been accumulating supplies of food, which Mugabe has for a long time been using for political purposes and which are said to be intended to amount to a few trillions of Zimbabwe dollars. ZANU-PF has, of course, had warning of the impending elections. In a cynical ploy to buy votes the regime has announced that it will over coming weeks open people's shops across the country to provide the basic commodities that are generally unavailable in Zimbabwe.

Developments as recently as today show that Mugabe's control of events is faltering. The postponement of the nomination day for a week seems to have been taken more in panic in ZANU-PF than with a sudden concern for the democratic process. The emergence yesterday of Simba Makoni from within ZANU-PF as a challenger for the presidency shows Mugabe's increasing isolation. This suggests that the political landscape of Zimbabwe could alter dramatically with new alliances and formations. Mugabe's fightback could be vicious. Makoni is reckoned by many to have prevaricated and supped with the devil for too long. Both he and Arthur Mutambara are widely claimed to lack grassroots support, while Morgan Tsvangirai has courageously led the mainstream MDC since its foundation and has won both scars and voter recognition for his efforts.

The rising anger against Mugabe was expressed recently by the president of ZINASU—the Zimbabwe National Students Union. In a letter to Mugabe he writes:

“ZINASU is disappointed by your conduct, lack of seriousness and urgency in the purported on-going SADC mediation process meant to resolve the current multi-faceted crisis our country finds itself in. Your attitude towards the initiative facilitated by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, leaves a lot to be desired, especially considering the fact that you proceeded to announce the election dates before the conclusion of the mediation process.

We further put to you that the students of Zimbabwe will not accept an election outcome from a flawed election process. We strongly and unequivocally warn you and your cronies that the country will be ungovernable if you steal the people's vote”.

Mugabe clearly fears that the students mean business and are capable of becoming a focus for dissent. He has ordered all state-run universities and colleges to stay closed until after elections on 29 March.

The Zimbabwean economy is in a state of collapse. The shops, including food shops, have bare shelves because of Mugabe’s decree that all shops must reduce the price of goods by 50 per cent. The first people to get to the shops after that decree, before the shelves were empty, were the police and the military. Other people have had to scavenge for food in waste bins.

What can be done? The mandate given to President Mbeki last March, at the urgently called conference of SADC heads of government in Tanzania, following a brutally disrupted prayer meeting, was simply to facilitate negotiation between ZANU-PF and the MDC. Before negotiations began instructions were given to the MDC by the police to avoid violence, even though the MDC is entirely peaceful. No such instructions were given to ZANU-PF.

One of the most urgent things which must be done is to renew the European Union-targeted measures against 131 of Mugabe's cronies limiting their travel, which expire this month. I would be grateful for the Minister's assurance that they will be renewed on time. Last year there were signs of backsliding by some EU members, which were halted by urgent action. These travel restrictions have been exaggerated by Mugabe's constantly describing them as savage economic sanctions, when of course they are nothing of the kind. African Union and SADC leaders peddle the same line. It is not known from what source these falsehoods come—possibly somewhere not far removed from SADC headquarters—but they seem to be given credence by a number of the SADC leaders. I should be glad to know what Her Majesty's Government are doing to refute these lies. Mugabe is a formidable practitioner of spin, but we may now have an opportunity to take our revenge against him.

Zimbabwe, like other SADC countries, is a signatory of the treaties for the African Union, SADC and NePAD. Those contain undertakings to observe human rights, good governance and the rule of law and to accept peer review. If Zimbabwe has not yet agreed to this last point it should be pressed by other SADC countries to do so. The promise was that these treaties were to be adhered to as part of a bargain with the developed world, which was the subject of a passionate speech by Tony Blair in 2001. The promise by the developed world was to increase the amount of aid, which has largely been done. I shall be glad to know also whether Her Majesty's Government have given thought to the implications of the substantial aid which is given to the SADC countries by the EU and by this country in particular. According to a Written Answer given to me on 10 October 2007, in col. WA 17, aid given by the United Kingdom in 2005 to the Southern African Development Community as a whole and to its member nations plus the UK's imputed share of multilateral aid to SADC member nations was over £750 million. That is a formidable figure.

The issue of Zimbabwe was discussed in Addis Ababa at the meeting of SADC countries a few days ago, on the sidelines of the African Union summit. President Mbeki reported that Mugabe's intransigence, and his reneging on agreements made early in the talks, had moved the mediation process to deadlock and failure. Eight nations supported President Mbeki's call for censure but three—Swaziland, Namibia and Angola—backed Mugabe and, surprisingly to me, that was deemed an insufficient basis for a consensual decision. Will Her Majesty's Government reconsider grants of development aid to these three countries to bring home to them the implications for our aid budget of their policy of supporting Mugabe? The Department for International Development will undoubtedly wish to consider aid holistically to SADC. By prolonging the crisis in Zimbabwe, these countries are adding to the massive sums that will be required for reconstruction when ZANU-PF eventually goes and undermining the development of the region as a whole.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for his tenacity and determination in ensuring that the plight and suffering of the people of Zimbabwe continue to command the attention of your Lordships' House. We need an election in Zimbabwe but we do not need Mugabe as a candidate. Zimbabwe has gone through a number of stages; it has gone from bad to worse and now to disaster. It is no wonder that thousands have left the country. For the unfortunate ones who have stayed, the rewards are quite clear: the abuse of their human rights, the destruction of their democratic rights and processes, and, of course, the suppression of their liberties.

As we have heard, the economy is not just on the verge of collapse but, as many would say, has collapsed. Seventy per cent are now unemployed; inflation figures are no longer believable. One in five is now living with HIV/AIDS and more than 1 million children have been orphaned and made vulnerable by the pandemic. One doctor described Zimbabwe in the following terms:

“Zimbabwe once offered the most comprehensive medical service in Africa, but it has now become a textbook of medical horror”.

Zimbabwe long ago lost most of its skilled people, the doctors, teachers, engineers and agricultural workers. Now all that it exports is its poverty.

Our Government have until recently been somewhat diffident in speaking up and speaking out against Mugabe's vile regime, but the time has come for us to confront the myth that our colonial past is somehow responsible for the current misery—nothing could be further from the truth. To succeed in helping the people of Zimbabwe in their liberation struggle from Mugabe, we must take a proactive stance. I was proud that our Prime Minister declined to attend the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon because he did not wish to be in the same room as Mugabe. That was a good start. But if the Prime Minister does not want to be in the same room as Mugabe, is it right to expect our sportsmen and women to be on the same field of play as representatives of that regime? John Howard, as Prime Minister of Australia, gave a clear lead. He said that Australian cricketers would not play against Zimbabwe. If that is good enough for Australia, it should be good enough for the United Kingdom.

A sporting, cultural and economic boycott would hasten the collapse of the regime and relieve the suffering of the people. We must give that lead. The Commonwealth, Europe and the United States would follow. I see the collapse of the regime not as an “if” but as a “when”. We should pause and reflect on how best we can help the people in order that we can ensure their liberation. During the apartheid regime in South Africa, Governments in many parts of the world trained and prepared members of the black population for leadership in that country, to enable them to make the transition from prison to power seamlessly and without violence. I therefore ask the Minister: what preparation is being made in that respect and more generally to help the people of Zimbabwe when that time comes? Protestation and whingeing is not enough. We must back our words with action and the time is now.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, has shown a consistent commitment to the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and all of us who share that concern are grateful to the noble Lord for having obtained this debate at such an apposite time, in the run-up to elections in Zimbabwe. Sadly, if the experience of Zimbabwe under Mr Mugabe in the past, or Kenya under Mr Kibaki in the present, are anything to go by, we can expect not only a rigged election, but violence afterwards.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has already said, there is already a profound humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. With an unprecedented convergence of AIDS, poverty and malnutrition, and some 3,500 people dying every week, Zimbabwe now has the lowest life expectancy in the region. If loss of life, as well as historic relationships and responsibility, are important criteria in determining the rankings on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy agenda, Zimbabwe certainly deserves to be higher up. There is now a critical shortage of basic foods. How are Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union stepping up their efforts to meet the shortfall and to ensure that basic human needs are met in full to help create better conditions for the up-coming elections and for people’s lives?

Our South African friends have made an effort to obtain the conditions for a decent poll. However, President Mbeki has failed to move Mr Mugabe, who is flatly refusing to dismantle the structures that he has created over the past decade to manage elections and dictate the outcome. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said, when President Mbeki took the issue back to an extraordinary summit of SADC in Addis Ababa, not only did Mr Mugabe refuse to implement the reforms agreed and required, but he was backed by a number of the other African leaders, which is most disappointing.

As a result, these elections are simply not going to be free and fair by international standards. The opposition have no exposure in the state-controlled media, they cannot campaign freely and many activists are refugees in South Africa and elsewhere. The voters roll is completely distorted by years of manipulation and any fair control of the poll is going to be difficult—some would say impossible. The decision of the split opposition MDC to fight on a divided ticket is tragic. Whatever the short-term problems of agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the long-term consequences for the country are likely to be savage.

Mr Mugabe and Zanu-PF are now so unpopular that I suppose an upset is just possible, but only if what happened in Kenya can be stopped. Prevention of a rigged election and count depends almost entirely on the presence of observer missions and the ability of local NGOs and the political parties to supervise the vote and the count and ensure that it is reported accurately and properly. How are HMG pressing African leaders to make that a possibility? I focus on African leaders because it is just not possible for this to be dealt with simply as an issue for Europe or European states. However, Her Majesty’s Government should maintain their position that:

“It will only recognise an outcome that reflects the will of the people and only in that context would stand ready to help the new government to get back onto its feet”.

On the other hand, if the election is, as we expect, rigged, there may be value in making it clear in advance that recognition of the new Government could be withheld. Certainly, we must find a way of doing more than simply wringing our hands.

Now that the Mbeki initiative has failed, the UK Government along with other Governments need to engage in proactive multilateral diplomacy. Can we find a common position with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique? Does the Minister think that his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will go to South Africa to help build consensus that could bring about an end to the extreme suffering of so many millions of Zimbabweans?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Blaker for initiating this debate. What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe over the past few years has been absolutely horrific, and, while we can all rehearse the depressingly familiar statistics, we need to recognise that this is, first and foremost, a human tragedy. Effectively, the Government of Zimbabwe have declared war on their own people. The cruelty that has been inflicted under Mugabe’s regime will take a long time to heal: and the hurt continues. Fifty-six per cent of the population in Zimbabwe lives on less than $1 a day and around 80 per cent lives on less than $2 a day. In economic terms, Mugabe has managed to transform one of Africa's most successful economies into a complete disaster. Inflation is rampant and some economists count the figure as above 11,000 per cent. There is a shortage of food and the basic necessities of life.

Mugabe's hold on power appears strong. He continues to be declared the winner of elections, despite these being considered seriously flawed by the opposition and foreign observers. In the 2005 elections, ZANU-PF won more than two-thirds of the votes in parliamentary elections said by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to be fraudulent. But, as my noble friend Lord Blaker acknowledged in the Motion for this debate, the damage extends well beyond economics and politics. Around 3,000 people die in Zimbabwe every week of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 1.8 million Zimbabweans infected with the disease. When some people stand up and proclaim the wonders of their assistance in tackling this human tragedy, they measure their contribution in terms of money spent. We should focus attention on the number of infections prevented and on the number of treatments, rather than the crude measurement of finance injected.

To focus our minds, life expectancy has fallen below 35 years, and there are an estimated 1.3 million orphans. I am appalled that other African countries have not shown more leadership and initiative: their approach has been supine. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in his response to this debate to update the House on the actions of the British High Commissioner in South Africa to ensure that Mugabe is placed under maximum pressure. I appreciate that the British Government have to overcome sensitivities, given our colonial history with Zimbabwe, but it must be possible to do more.

Zimbabwe stands as testament to the truth that although the power, even of a good Government, to do good is not infinite, the power of a bad one knows no limit. I hope that other African leaders will change course and live up to their responsibility for the disaster that keeps deteriorating in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has done his country no favours, and the sooner he is out of office the better. It is imperative that the country returns to true democracy, and that opposition leaders are respected and protected. Other African countries need to support this.

In conclusion, it is not the removal of Mr Mugabe that is necessary; the country needs humanitarian aid, the building of institutions, the restoration of democracy on a proper basis, and considerable investment by foreign countries.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for the opportunity for your Lordships’ House once again to debate Zimbabwe, in which the church has a deep, abiding and ongoing interest. My diocese has companion links with three dioceses in Zimbabwe. Members of our parishes pay occasional visits there, and we encourage our link bishops, from time to time, to come here for consultations. One returned to Zimbabwe last week after such discussions. He gave us a first-hand account of the dire situation in his country and what the churches are doing to try to alleviate suffering.

Given the scale of suffering in Zimbabwe, and the total collapse of the economy, it seems incomprehensible that it has been impossible for Her Majesty’s Government to achieve more international support for their efforts to bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe Government. President Mugabe’s apparent ability to act decisively on land reform has impressed many in Africa. We know that the short cuts taken to land reform through violent farm seizures were disastrous, involving the transfer of land to ZANU-PF supporters, regardless of their ability to farm, and often on the basis of cronyism. Agriculture has been devastated, which, along with poor harvests and drought, has turned the bread basket of Africa into an unproductive wasteland. With elections on the horizon and the knowledge of the political capital that President Mugabe has made from land reform, it is most important that the British Government re-emphasise their commitment to helping a legitimate Zimbabwean Government to achieve land reform that is equitable for all Zimbabwean citizens.

In Zimbabwe, the place where the people most often go to keep their sense of identity is the local church. More than that, when there is little cause for economic or political hope, it is in the churches that people find the most essential human quality—hope for the future. I do not want to mislead noble Lords. Because the church is often the most extensive and deeply rooted community-based network, it also reflects the tensions and divisions of the world in which it is set. Recently in the diocese of Harare, there has been a tremendous battle for the soul of the church, with a close political ally of President Mugabe, Bishop Kononga, driving out clergy who oppose him. The province acted and removed him from office. On Sunday, a new bishop was installed, with more than 700 people worshipping with him at short notice. The good news is that this demonstrates how the brave people of Zimbabwe, given the opportunity, are more than ready to take responsibility for governance. What can happen at the heart of the church can happen at the heart of Government. Please, God, may it do so before too long.

My Lords, as we have heard this evening, the world has stood by and watched the systematic destruction of a once great country. Whatever the merits of the policies pursued by Her Majesty’s Government, the UN, the European Union, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the SADC states, they have all, without doubt, failed miserably. The country is broken, the majority of the people are utterly destitute, society has broken down and the rule of law has gone. This is entirely a man-made tragedy, the blame for which lies squarely with Robert Mugabe, his ZANU-PF henchmen, and those political leaders in the region who have appeased him.

In my four minutes this evening, I wish to develop only one point. Previous debates have covered a lot of detail, and the House knows very well the depth of the tragedy in the country: the lack of water, the lack of electricity, the misery and the destruction of human rights. We know those bitter facts. We now need to look beyond the current regime. It will not last for that much longer. There are those with power and influence in the country who realise this. We now need to concentrate on what happens after Mugabe goes, as he inevitably will, in, one hopes, the not too distant future.

The infrastructure is now in a terrible state, but it can be rebuilt with help from the developed world. Now is the time to start talking in concrete terms about this reconstruction process, by putting together a coalition of funders, including Governments, multilateral development and funding agencies, including the World Bank, and corporate—and even private—donors. With funding pledges on the table and a reconstruction plan standing by, the prospects for rebuilding the country, stabilising the economy, starting to tackle the desperate healthcare situation and restoring power become more tangible. The prospect of a successful transition from a disastrous dictatorship to a benevolent peaceful regime must be attractive to those with the potential to influence events from within the country.

I am, perhaps, surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for Zimbabwe in the medium term. Many of the productive emigrants, including farmers, teachers and engineers, would come back and work with the brave people who have stayed in that country to rebuild it. Zimbabwe will get worse before it gets better, but hope may not be too far away. We can influence this process with a constructive contribution, as well as maintaining political pressure on Zimbabwe and its influential neighbour in the south, which surely has the key to accelerating this process.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for his tenacity in giving us this opportunity, again, to debate the many challenges facing Zimbabwe. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, that the situation has gone from bad to worse to disastrous. Despite the heavy rains over the past month, most of the farms remain deserted, with very few new crops being grown, facing the inevitability of yet another year of starvation, this time even worse than last year. This will lead, inevitably, to an ever-larger number of Zimbabweans attempting to get across the border into South Africa.

While I support all the measures that can be exerted by the international community to bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe, I have always advocated that there need to be African solutions for African problems. To this end, while President Thabo Mbeki has had reasonable success as the SADC facilitator in his mediations with Mugabe and the MDC, these efforts, as has already been mentioned, have been aborted by President Mugabe calling a snap election for 29 March. This leaves no time for an agreement to be reached on the new constitution, or the repeal of the tough and very draconian security laws. There is unlikely to be any material change in Zimbabwe, as we all know, until there is a change in leadership. To this end, I certainly welcome the recent news that Simba Makoni will be standing against Mugabe in the presidential elections.

Mugabe clearly saw the opportunity to call a snap election with the opposition MDC being totally disorganised and failing to form a unified front. While it is unlikely to happen, the hope is that Morgan Tsvangarai and Arthur Mutambara will make way for Simba Makoni’s challenge for the presidency. Having the backing of Solomon Mujuru, the ex-head of the armed forces, and several other senior ZANU-PF leaders, should add weight to his campaign. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, I fear the backlash of Mugabe’s support base against Simba Makoni.

There is no doubt that Mugabe manipulated the ZANU-PF December congress to ensure that he was the only candidate standing on behalf of the party for the presidency, which was totally wrong. Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, should Mugabe win, the general view is that at the age of 84 he will seek to hand over power soon after being re-elected to his chosen successor. The fear of many Zimbabweans is that this will be Mr Mnangagwa.

There have been many calls for South Africa to do more to put pressure to bear on there being a change in leadership in Zimbabwe. The recent move by Eskom to cut off the electricity supply to Zimbabwe due to electricity shortages in South Africa has shown the huge dependence that Zimbabwe has on South Africa. However, it is unlikely that South Africa will seek to take these measures intentionally to force political change in Zimbabwe. What is more interesting is whether President Mbeki’s successor, who is likely to be Jacob Zuma, will take a stronger line on forcing changes in Zimbabwe. I believe that he would take a stronger line, but it is unlikely that he will come to power before the middle of next year, and that depends on the outcome of the criminal case against him. It is anticipated that President Mbeki will elaborate on his strategy on Zimbabwe in his state of the nation speech this Friday.

My time is almost up. I would have liked to speak on the alleged illegal extradition of Simon Mann to Equatorial Guinea; perhaps the Minister could comment on that. I would also have liked to elaborate on the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, as to what measures have been taken by the international community to offer some form of Marshall Aid package to promote change but, more importantly, expedite the reconstruction of the country once there has been a long-awaited change in leadership in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we have been here before. In the past eight years we have had a number of debates on Zimbabwe. The only thing that has changed is that, although we never think the situation is going to get worse, by the subsequent debate it has become a great deal worse. That is the case today. Particularly in the past two weeks, there has been another rapid decline in the fortunes of Zimbabwe.

What is sad about this is that, as my noble friend Lord Goschen said, the government policy on Africa is in tatters. Under the NePAD agreement, many African states have taken all the extra money we said that we would give them but they have given nothing back in increased civil rights, better protection for their citizens or democracy. That is a major failing. The situation, as we see it from this country, is not helped by the situation internationally. The EU is what I would term peely-wally with regard to Zimbabwe. The UN does not take much interest in it and there does not seem to be much agreement. China is sneaking in through the back door whenever it can to disrupt the situation and is planning its future in terms of all the mineral and other assets that Africa has.

One unique and extraordinary thing about Zimbabwe is that despite the past eight years it has not resorted to violence. That is an amazing fact. If it had resorted to violence, perhaps something might have happened. The French are very quick to protect their interests in Chad, and Kofi Annan, former head of the UN, quickly went to sort out the situation in Kenya. Those countries are getting all the help that can possibly be given. The poor Zimbabweans have been the good guys in this and have not fought. The MDC has resisted every temptation and every encouragement to fight, and it has come worst off. It is a sad tale of human beings in the current world that the bad guys get the help and seem to come out better off than the good guys.

Mugabe continues to run rings around Mbeki. I differ on this, as I always have, with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. Mugabe knew exactly what he was doing; he was running the talks with Mbeki to the last possible minute, knowing that if there was no agreement the MDC would split, making his rigging of the election that much easier. That is exactly what has happened. I give no credit at all to Mbeki. He should have stood up to the other African states and been much stronger with Mugabe right at the beginning. He should have said, “These are the terms. Come on, Robert, sign up. We have been old friends long enough”. But he let it run right to the end and Mugabe ran circles round him.

I cannot predict what is going to happen in the next month until the election. All one knows is that Mugabe is going to cause severe mayhem with all the opposition candidates, including Makoni. The postponement of the nomination panel gives him a very good chance, as he has a week to screen out all the Makoni supporters and make the election a safer bet. What will happen to poor Zimbabwe? Can the Minister tell us what plans there are for the future? If he is going to get a Marshall Aid package or something like that, what strings will be attached? We cannot afford to let Africa get away with another NePAD, where we give it money and it gives us nothing in return. I am talking about “us” in the wider sense of the citizens of Africa and of the world. They should give us back democracy and civil rights.

My Lords, the Minister may reflect on the remarkable contrast between the huge international efforts made to resolve the crisis between the Government and the opposition in Kenya, which we debated earlier this afternoon, involving the UN, the AU and many states, and the puny attempt by President Thabo Mbeki on his own to ward off the far greater catastrophe that is engulfing the people of Zimbabwe, including endemic unilateral violence by the Government against anyone they think may be against them. That includes not only the official opposition but the 2.5 million shantytown dwellers in Operation Murambatsvina, and now university students and teachers. The plight of those people and of the 4.5 million people who flooded across the border, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, is in stark contrast, as it remains completely unremedied after the eight years of discussions that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, just mentioned. He may like to reflect on the statement that was attributed to an Irishman in the 19th century that, “Violence is the only way of securing a hearing for the voices of moderation”.

There was no mention of Zimbabwe at the AU summit which ended last Sunday. SADC got a report from Mr Mbeki in the margins, but it has said nothing about the reforms that will be necessary for even a partial approximation of free and fair elections on 29 March. The signs are ominous, with opposition rallies being prohibited, activists beaten up, and the police chief being given a grand new title and new car and making public threats against what he calls “those bent on exploiting the economic situation”. We can expect to see violent attacks against candidates and supporters who campaign against the policies that are beggaring the nation while handing new privileges to the army, the police and the so-called war vets.

It is a tragedy, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, that the two wings of the MDC failed to reach an agreement on joint presidential and parliamentary candidates, but with ZANU-PF and Mugabe universally hated by the people, there could still be a sporting chance that Mugabe could be defeated. There are splits within the ruling party, with Simba Makoni, the former finance Minister, deciding to contest the presidential election. Apart from him, there are several incumbent ZANU-PF Ministers and former MPs being sidelined in the selection of candidates. No one imagines that there will be a free and fair election, but if the presence of well-resourced observers over the next seven weeks could make a difference—and I believe that it could—what efforts are we making to see that observer teams are properly resourced and financed?

Could we perhaps ask the SADC countries to sound out the Commonwealth about possible technical help that it might be able to give not only to the SADC observers but also against the possibility, as has been mentioned, that Zimbabwe will need substantial reconstruction after the election? The observer team might have something to contribute to that.

The regime has said that it will relax the restrictions on foreign journalists, who can play a crucial part in monitoring conditions in the run-up period. I would like to mention the intrepid Sue Lloyd-Roberts, who last autumn got in to show people starving and disease rampant; and, just the other day, John Simpson, who exposed the divisions within ZANU-PF. The free media, particularly journalists from SADC countries, can do more than politicians to ensure that Zimbabwe does not wake on 30 March to a disputed result, with consequences that could be even more disastrous than the horrors we have seen in Kenya.

My Lords, it is of course impossible in the few minutes available to me from this Dispatch Box to summarise or do justice to this excellent little debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blaker for once again returning to the issue.

Looking back on our endless debates on this subject, I find that we were told again and again that quiet diplomacy was the best course and would work. I gather that the Minister has just been touring parts of Africa, and I hope that he found out for himself what some of us have long argued. While we obviously could play no direct and confrontational part in the unfolding Zimbabwean tragedy, we could and should have been much tougher from the start on sanctions against individuals, companies and interests that were enriching themselves while supporting the regime, and on doubters at the UN who persistently blocked attempts to bring the horrors of Zimbabwe to the Security Council. We could and should have pressed Mr Mbeki and South Africa to be more robust and creative. We could and should have urged China sooner to stop sending aid and succour to Mugabe—as my right honourable friend David Cameron has now rightly done. This is not the fault of the present Minister, as he was not in place, but the Government did not do any of those things. Instead we were constantly and repeatedly told that quiet diplomacy would do the trick.

Now where have we got to? We have inflation touching anything between 13,000 and 100,000 per cent—somewhere between the two. We have unemployment at 80 per cent, a quarter of the population relying on food aid, refugees streaming over the borders and the rule of law collapsing. To repeat the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso: it would be interesting to know about British subject Simon Mann and why all his legal rights seem to have been ignored in his illegal extradition to Equatorial Guinea.

This is a disastrous scene in which, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown—I think that I have them right—we have an aid and development policy in Africa but not a foreign policy. That has been the trouble. When one looks at the huge imbalances between the resources available to DfID and those available to diplomacy and the Foreign Office, it is only too obvious what has happened. In the new Comprehensive Spending Review up to 2011, the FCO gets a 0.2 per cent reduction each year, and DfID—which already has a budget four times larger—gets an 11 per cent increase. This is a dangerous imbalance. Instead of having a foreign policy alongside our aid policy, we have been left to drift along with spineless international policy on Zimbabwe and, just somehow, to hope for miracles.

Maybe a few small miracles could be about to happen, but I do not know. We have heard about Simba Makoni, who has had the enormous courage to emerge to challenge Mugabe in the elections. We know that the Government are now being forced to take back farms that were parcelled out to cronies and officials because they have produced nothing, and that they will now be put in more competent managerial hands. While the MDC opposition is sadly split, so now is ZANU-PF, and that must be good.

What more can we do now, on top of the long list of things that we have urged should have happened but have not? I believe that the Commonwealth could play a forward role, even if Zimbabwe is not at the moment a member. I would like to see a Commonwealth working committee drawn from both African and other member state personnel to explore real land reform options, to encourage donors to re-engage and to plan an effective recovery strategy post Mugabe in that once rich country. I am sure that point has not yet been reached, and maybe things are going to get worse before they get better. We can only pray that, when it comes, there will be recovery and prosperity. Again, it ought to prosper and it ought to be free—and it is not.

My Lords, let me echo the noble Lord’s last words. We can indeed pray for that outcome and I hope we will achieve it. I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on having tabled this debate on Zimbabwe. We all respect his continued commitment to raising the crisis in Zimbabwe at every possible opportunity. He has shown himself a real friend of the people of Zimbabwe if not of its president.

We all support the view that our primary focus must be on helping ordinary Zimbabweans. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor, giving £45 million in the current year and some £173 million since 2000. As we have frequently reassured this House, this aid is distributed via third parties—the UN and NGOs—and not via the Government. As many noble Lords said, on every indicator, the country faces worse times ahead. The harvest will be poor. We are spending £10 million a year tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, that does not do justice to the fact that this money is not achieving the results we would wish. Life expectancy is now a catastrophic 35 years.

We continue to spend money to support democratic change, supporting civil society as well as lawyers to try and improve the climate for free and fair elections. We have ensured that EU targeted measures are in place to punish President Mugabe and the elite and not the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that we are confident that those targeted measures will be renewed again later this month.

We speak regularly with other countries in the region, in particular South Africa and other SADC countries, to encourage them to resolve the crisis. But I take the point about quiet diplomacy. I met the South African Foreign Minister at the end of last week, in the margins of the AU summit. We also have word of the briefings that the South Africans made to the other SADC member states. I am not quite as well informed as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, on how the countries are divided on the issue, but we are seeing a disappointing failure of the neighbours to stand up for the kind of change that we must see in Zimbabwe.

I do not agree that withholding aid from other SADC members is the way to achieve change there. Angola, which the noble Lord mentioned, is an oil-rich country that is in no way dependent on aid and with its own strong point of view on these issues. SADC contains a number of countries whose development and performance of democracy and respect for it is admirable in its own right. We just wish that they would be as vigorous in applying the same standards to their neighbour Zimbabwe as they are brave enough to apply them at home.

President Mbeki’s efforts to mediate have essentially now expired. The election has been declared by President Mugabe and he has not accepted the MDC’s demands for delays. By so doing he has negated the few conditions that had been negotiated, all of which depended on time for implementation to allow for a freer and fairer election.

President Mugabe has stated that there will be no amendment to the constitution until after the elections. One must therefore assume that the conditions for genuinely free and fair elections remain far away. The electoral roll is incomplete and inaccurate. It seems that millions of those outside the country have no prospect of being able to vote. The many new constituency boundaries introduced under the negotiations have been introduced in a rush and essentially amount to gerrymandering, favouring ZANU-PF. To this day, the opposition is unable to hold rallies freely or complain without harassment and is not being given equal access to the media. The military and the police continue to crawl all over the election management process.

On the point about international election observers, it is very unlikely that credible international teams will be allowed to monitor the elections. I therefore use this debate in the House tonight to appeal to the SADC Heads of State and Government who have established very good principles of electoral conduct for their sub-region to insist that those principles be applied in Zimbabwe, and to be the first to declare that they have not been met if indeed they are not met.

The issue of cricket, was raised by my noble friend Lord Morris. There are no sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe, but the Foreign Secretary and others in this Government have made it clear that we do not encourage the England and Wales Cricket Board to allow Zimbabwe to tour England in 2009 or England to tour Zimbabwe in 2012 if the situation in the country is as it is now. We continue to speak to the ECB about these issues but it remains a decision for the board. We have decided that the Government can make their position clear, but that it is not for us to intervene directly in this matter.

I shall say a word about Simon Mann. Before his appeals process had exhausted itself, and therefore completely in contravention of Zimbabwe’s own legal standards and system, he was removed from the country and sent to Equatorial Guinea. We have sought consular access to him there without success to this point. We are pressing both there and here in London for Simon Mann’s rights to be met. We are extremely concerned about the situation given the history of what has happened to prisoners before in that country. We shall certainly press fully for Mr Mann to enjoy his full legal rights.

A number of noble Lords including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark raised questions on the future situation in Zimbabwe. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place that we stand ready to assist in the economic recovery of Zimbabwe once our benchmarks for change in that country have been met; once there is a Government who are genuinely committed to economic and political reform and to the restoration of the rights of its citizens; and once there is a Government who enjoy the support of their people. At that point Britain will be generous in its support to economic recovery. I can assure noble Lords that we are already preparing for that day. We have been working with international institutions such as the World Bank, about which the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, inquired. We are looking at the cost of recovery. We are planning for it and talking to international partners. I agree entirely that recovery must deal with the issue of land, which remains at the heart of so much of the dispute in that unhappy country.

I share the views of those who contrasted the international attention given to Kenya and that given to Zimbabwe. I hope it does not prove the point that several noble Lords made, that the international community will be stirred into action only if there is violence. We all devoutly hope that that will not happen in Zimbabwe, although we all also recognise that a very high level of state violence is already being applied to the citizens of that country.

Zimbabwe is the guilty secret of Africa and the international community. There is a terrible double standard. There has been a failure to point the finger publicly and to declare what a terrible crime is occurring against the citizens of that country. We hope that this election will enable those who run against President Mugabe to champion that point of view. We wish them all the best in the election. To go any further than that would be to undermine their own standing. Even these words will be passed on by President Mugabe and his propaganda sidekicks in an attempt to suggest that one or other or all three of them are British stooges and the British candidates to replace him.

We hope, as others have said, that there is a glimmer of hope; that, even in a snap election conducted under impossibly unfair conditions, with all the levers, advantages and cards in hands of government, God and good fortune will smile on that unhappy country, and that perhaps out of these elections will emerge a surprising electoral upset. In order to try to ensure the possibility of such an outcome we will insist—and impress on Europe, the region, the UN and the rest of the international community the need to insist—that the right standards of freeness and openness are met in that election to allow the country to return to democracy and prosperity. Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate, lowest life expectancy and, as has been pointed out, an ever-growing number of HIV/AIDS orphans. It is clear to everyone that the solution to this crisis cannot come soon enough.

We still believe that that solution must first and foremost be an African solution supported by the region and the wider international community. We will continue to explore and support all efforts to deliver that solution. In the mean time, to ease the suffering of Zimbabweans at the hands of their leadership, we will continue to provide crucial humanitarian assistance to ordinary Zimbabweans, to try to ease their suffering amidst all the pain and pressures they endure in their everyday lives.

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. It has been a particularly good one.

Forgive me, my Lords, but the noble Lord who initiates a Question for Short Debate is not allowed to respond.