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Volume 700: debated on Thursday 3 April 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made yesterday in the other place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, the whole world is watching events unfolding in Zimbabwe and with your permission I will make a Statement on the situation as we understand it. I hope and believe that the people of Zimbabwe will hear one message from this House: that we stand with them at this moment of opportunity and that we share their demand for a democratic future.

“For obvious reasons, the delicacy of the current situation means that I and, I am sure, all honourable Members will want to choose our words carefully, given the risk that what we say will be distorted. That does not mean that there are not some fundamental points that need to be expressed.

“I have within the last 30 minutes spoken to our ambassador in Harare. The situation is fluid. Zimbabwe’s political, civic and economic leaders are clearly engaged in intensive discussions. The full results of the parliamentary elections are still unclear. The latest tally is that 188 seats have been declared and 80 remain to be declared. The two main parties are running neck and neck. There is still no formal announcement about the key presidential election.

“Though the situation in Harare is tense, there is no suggestion of crowds massing and no reports of violence. But it is not business as usual: many schools are still closed and people are watching and waiting to see what will happen.

“Let me assure the House that through both political and official channels there has been a high degree of contact and consultation. The Prime Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown and I have been in touch with Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers in southern Africa and around the world. There is an international consensus that the will of the Zimbabwean people must be understood and respected.

“The people of Zimbabwe have made their choice. Outside the 9,400 polling stations, the tallies have been posted. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission knows what those results are and has simply to announce them. The delay in announcing the outcome can only be seen as a deliberate and calculated tactic. It gives substance to the suspicion that the authorities are reluctant to accept the will of the people. They have a responsibility to do so, and Zimbabwe’s neighbours, who have borne a significant share of the burden of Zimbabwe’s collapse, have a responsibility to ensure that that occurs.

“No one in this House would want me to hand ZANU-PF a propaganda coup by endorsing one candidate or another, or by taking it on myself to announce the result. In truth, in spite of what President Mugabe would want the world to believe, the crisis in Zimbabwe has never been about personalities. It is not a bilateral dispute between British and Zimbabwean politicians or anyone else. It has always been about the policies that Robert Mugabe and his Government have chosen to follow and the terrible destruction that has been wreaked on the Zimbabwean people.

“The situation preceding these elections was shocking. The conditions for free and fair elections were not in place. The playing field was tilted heavily in favour of ZANU-PF. Up to 4 million people who had fled Zimbabwe’s crisis could not vote. In some areas, between 18 per cent and 20 per cent of those who tried to vote were frustrated by the inaccurate electoral roll. We will probably never know how many dead people on that roll cast ghost votes. But we do know that, in spite of those problems, millions of ordinary Zimbabweans still queued peacefully and voted. Now they are holding their breath: will their country reverse the spiral of decline or exacerbate it?

“The facts speak for themselves: life expectancy has halved to an average of 34, nearly 2,500 AIDS-related deaths occur per week, inflation is practically incalculable and day-to-day abuse of human rights and freedoms is commonplace.

“Britain has always supported the Zimbabwean people through the pain of their national trauma. We are the second largest bilateral donor and spent over £40 million last year on aid. Our support provided HIV treatment for more than 30,000 HIV patients and helped the World Food Programme to feed up to 3 million people—about one quarter of Zimbabwe’s population.

“We will continue with our support. We want to do more to encourage development within Zimbabwe. When there is real and positive policy change on the ground, Britain will play a full part in supporting recovery. We know that the Zimbabwean people face a massive rebuilding task. We will help them to do that with EU and international colleagues. But that can happen only when and if there is a return to real democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe.

“We will continue to do all that we can to encourage that to happen and to encourage other countries in the region to exert what influence they have over the situation in Zimbabwe. Those with greatest influence in Zimbabwe are those closest to Zimbabwe, but we are clear that the situation will not be one that Africans alone have to carry the burden of supporting.

“Our ambassador and the embassy staff, both local and UK-based, are working tirelessly in difficult circumstances. They are in very close contact with a wide range of Zimbabweans and stand ready to offer consular assistance to the many British nationals in Zimbabwe.

“Many honourable Members have been tireless advocates for the people of Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have suffered for too long. Every British citizen will yearn with them for that suffering to end and for it to end now. I shall of course seek to keep the House fully informed of events and the Government’s further actions to influence them”.

Further to the Statement delivered by my right honourable friend in the other place yesterday, I would like to update the House on developments overnight. The results of 207 Assembly seats have now been announced. The final three results will be decided by by-election. The tally gives the MDC—Morgan Tsvangirai’s party—99 seats, ZANU-PF 97 seats and the remaining candidates 11 seats. There are still no results for the 60 Senate seats and no announcement has been made concerning the result of the key presidential election. More than four and a half days have passed since the polling stations closed. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission knows the remaining results. I reiterate that it should announce them immediately, without further delay. I am placing a copy of this Statement in the Vote Office and in the Library of the House of Commons.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for delivering the Statement today, delaying its repetition from yesterday, and for adding a brief update. I am sure that his colleagues on the justice team were grateful that further progress at the Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill was not delayed, given the enormous time pressure that the Government find themselves under.

I had hoped that events in Zimbabwe would have moved on sufficiently yesterday for much of the Minister’s Statement to be out of date, but I regret that this is not the case. The confusion that the Secretary of State spoke of yesterday has only partly been resolved. The Electoral Commission has finally announced most of the results for the 207 House of Assembly parliamentary seats, but there is still no official confirmation of the result of the presidential vote. Without this announcement, the situation grows even more dangerous. I am glad that the Secretary of State yesterday gave an assurance that the Government have been seriously considering contingency plans to ensure the safety of British citizens who could be caught up in any violence.

One thing is clear: despite ZANU-PF’s claims that the premature announcement of the results by opposition parties is “mischievous”, the delay of the official announcement is far more pernicious. So are the rumbling threats from leading ZANU-PF officials of punitive action should the “wrong” results eventually be announced.

Zimbabwe is suffering from a grossly mismanaged economy, with inflation at an unbelievable level and 4 million people dependent on food aid. The political system is corrupted: instances of politically motivated torture doubled over the last year and harassment of opposition politicians is routine. There is an ongoing health crisis, with an estimated 1.7 million HIV/AIDS sufferers and life expectancy among the lowest in Africa. That this situation might continue is appalling. That it might get even worse and degenerate into outright and widespread violence is heartbreaking.

A comprehensive international effort will be essential should these elections follow the unfortunate example recently seen in Kenya. The Secretary of State failed to answer my right honourable friend’s questions on the Government’s preparation for either an international observer mission or an over-the-horizon humanitarian force should the worst come to the worst. I hope that the Minister will tell your Lordships how ready the African Union is to step in, should that become necessary, and what the Government would do in support. What preparations have been made for emergency aid in the event of a crisis?

We would like to be optimistic, so I turn to what the Conservative Party would like to see: a return to good governance in what used to be one of the most successful countries in Africa. Of course, even in the best of all possible worlds, Zimbabwe’s rehabilitation will not be easy. The Secretary of State yesterday spoke of the misrepresentation of our support for NGOs working to improve the situation in Zimbabwe. We should not allow our colonial past, either in Zimbabwe or in other countries in the region, to be used to obstruct our humanitarian support.

What are the Government doing to establish better understanding among Zimbabwe’s neighbours of what we seek to achieve? What progress is being made towards establishing a comprehensive international effort, under the UN, the EU or the African Union, to forge better links with NGOs in Zimbabwe? Without regional support, anything that we say in this House or another place will remain empty words. I hope that the Minister will reassure your Lordships that not only have this Government been working to establish that support, but also that this country is ready to do everything possible to offer support in the case of both the worst and the best outcomes.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for updating it. Things are moving very fast and much has changed since yesterday. Because we were not given this Statement yesterday, I asked for it to be taken today, to give us a chance to hear from the Minister about this fast-developing area. I thank the usual channels for allowing that.

I did not anticipate that Mugabe might be removed, as now seems possible, by peaceful, democratic means. That makes me feel incredibly optimistic about development in Africa. However, we must make sure that the citizens of Zimbabwe, who are not resorting to violence, are supported and reinforced in their exercise of democracy. We are still in very dangerous and fluid circumstances and the present crisis is far from over.

Can the Minister update us on whether he feels that the parliamentary elections have been fair? The new system of posting results outside polling stations, which are then systematically recorded by the MDC, often on mobile telephones, has made it much more difficult to rig this election. Will the Government support pressure for full results to be published and compared? What more can the Minister tell us of the presidential election? Does he think that there might be a further contest?

What role is the military playing? Does the Minister think that, as is rumoured, it plans a campaign of violence to keep Mugabe in power? Yesterday, Zimbabwe’s Deputy Information Minister called the Opposition’s claim of victory “irresponsible” and said:

“They think they can provoke the police and the army”.

Will the Minister do all that he can to ensure that any actions by the police and the army to frustrate the will of the electorate will not be countenanced by the international community, particularly by SADC, whose declared standards would be breached by such political engagement by the police and military? Will the noble Lord assure us that he will ask South Africa, the AU and the UN to make that clear? What role is SADC playing? Is it correct that SADC leaders are now pressing Morgan Tsvangirai to be accommodating?

In the longer term, what we know about fragile states has immense importance here. We cannot let Zimbabwe slide into chaos. Could the Minister assure us that, even though we have pressing concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will not let Zimbabwe slide down the agenda? How does he think we should balance the claims of those in the old regime? They did little to move this day forward until they saw the economic and political writing on the wall, as it is clear they now do. On the other hand, does he think it better for them to be inside, rather than outside wishing any new regime ill?

Last year, the FCO gave us a full and impressive briefing on the plans of the international community for a post-Mugabe era. Could the noble Lord update us on those plans? The Guardian reports that £1 billion in aid is likely to go to Zimbabwe. Can he confirm this and could he describe its outlines? What will happen in the near future to food aid and, in the longer term, to agricultural development and efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS, on which we have just had a debate?

Aid must not be siphoned off by international corporations, as has happened in Afghanistan. Local enterprises must be given the investment that they need to build a stable foundation for a revived economy. The assistance given to resettle returning exiles, as happened in the Balkans—albeit with the possible resentment of those who stayed behind—will be important. There will need to be programmes to reskill people. A quarter of Zimbabwe’s people have fled abroad, many with the skills that are needed to restore the institutions and the economy. Investment in education and training will be vital, especially for the young people, many of them orphans, who have been subjected to brainwashing in the youth militia. Free and open political debate must be fostered. A reformed media environment will result in a redrawing of the political landscape.

In conclusion, does the Minister share my optimism that, if Zimbabwe successfully comes through this crisis, its future will be much brighter? However, it will need sustained effort by the international community if the long years of devastation are to be reversed. I have heard it said that it would take seven years to turn around each year of the chaos caused by Mugabe. Does the noble Lord agree that this means that the international community needs to be there for the long haul and not simply for a year or two?

My Lords, the noble Baronesses have made very important points. They both understand that we speak in this House today under some constraint. There is often a complaint that in the Lords we do not have an audience. Today, we do. I shall quote from this morning’s Zimbabwean newspaper, the Herald:

“Almost the entire British state machinery—from the BBC to its House of Commons—was almost going hysterical over the delay in announcing the election results by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission”.

Apparently, the debate yesterday in the other place was broadcast live in Zimbabwe and repeated throughout the evening. Therefore, as we discuss the issue today, we do so under the burden that those who would seek to prolong the current stalemate in Zimbabwean politics and those who would resist change will fall on anything that we say to try to convert what should be a judgment on the will of the Zimbabwean people into a diversion about whether the British are “up to it again”. Therefore, as the two noble Baronesses have done, we need to pick our words carefully and avoid anything that can feed these last-minute tactics of a failed regime in Zimbabwe.

I turn to the points that have been made. As has been reported in the press, ZANU-PF has indeed, with the completion of the returns for the lower House, lost its majority. That is the good news, but the bad news is that the results have not given the MDC a clear majority. It will be dependent on independent votes to govern with a majority, so we face a prospect of a rather unstable situation in the lower House. Whether the vote count was done fairly remains to be seen. Certainly, we have heard that the MDC and the Civil Society Network, which also made a poll analysis, both suspect that at the very least some of the majorities notched up in the seats that ZANU-PF won have been inflated and exaggerated.

However, the broader point is that this election was inherently unfair from the beginning. Far from there being a level playing field, it was, as a diplomat said to me today, more of a slalom course. Millions of people could not vote because they were outside the country; opposition leaders were allowed access to the media in a significant way only in the last days of the campaign; up to 20 per cent of electors in some constituencies were barred from voting on the pretence that their names were not on the register; and perhaps the same number of dead people voted. All that makes it an extraordinary achievement for the Opposition—and the people of Zimbabwe—that they have prevailed and won the lower House election against all the odds. One knows that if one was to assume what the real vote of the people of Zimbabwe was, it would reflect a runaway victory for the Opposition.

That brings me to the questions about what happens next. Clearly, at this point there are two possible outcomes. One is that there is a second round—that President Mugabe insists that Morgan Tsvangirai has not crossed the 50 per cent mark in the first round and demands the right to challenge him in a second round. If that were to happen, there would be a clear need to ensure the deployment of a much strengthened international observer. In the first round, the Zimbabweans did not allow observers from Europe, let alone from the United Kingdom. They allowed to be present only those whom they saw as observers from friendly neighbouring countries. I think that those same friendly neighbours would be the first to agree with us that, in the case of a second round, they would need the assistance of other international observers, from Europe and elsewhere. With a leader who has ruled in the way that President Mugabe has for the past 28 years, it is impossible to conceive of him winning unless there were a massive effort to steal the election result. Therefore, it would be very important to put in a strong observer presence to ensure that the SADC principles of free elections were respected.

If, on the other hand, Mr Tsvangirai has indeed triumphed on the first round and has crossed the 50 per cent mark or if President Mugabe chooses not to contest the second round, then the need immediately to try to support a new Government with humanitarian assistance and longer-term reconstruction assistance is critical and urgent. I think that the United Kingdom is well placed to assist in that. We are already the second-largest humanitarian donor, and we helped the WFP to feed 3 million people last year—almost a quarter of the population of Zimbabwe. One can expect to see that programme expanded in the immediate short term after the devastating impact on the economy of these elections. We have just contributed to emergency drug purchases for the country and we have plans to step up and expand that emergency humanitarian operation.

Secondly, if, as I say, there is a transfer of power to a democratically elected Government who move quickly to stabilise and restructure the economy, we have every intention of being major development partners—both as a principal bilateral donor and through our role as the largest donor to the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

This morning’s report to which the noble Baroness referred muddled dollars with pounds. The estimate is that the absorptive capacity of Zimbabwe in these early stages will probably rise to $1 billion next year and perhaps $1.3 billion in the year after that before levelling out and subsequently falling. It is expected that Britain will play a major part in providing the finance for that both bilaterally and through our multilateral efforts. I say “a” major, not “the” major, because this will be an internationally shared activity in which we would expect many others to play their role. I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that there is no intention of this being a short-term effort or of it taking second place to other priorities.

I think that everyone in this House and the other place is combined in our desire to see Zimbabwe—that formerly prosperous country—put back on its feet and able to enjoy the economic opportunity that it justly deserves after all that has happened. The omens look better than they have in quite a long time: finally, the long nightmare of the people of Zimbabwe is coming to an end.

My Lords, I hear what the Minister said about there being an audience in Zimbabwe and, indeed, matters are moving very fast. However, does he agree with the view expressed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that now is not the time for quiet diplomacy and that every possible and very strong representation should be made to President Thabo Mbeki at this time?

My Lords, all the leaders in southern Africa have been attempting to speak directly to President Mugabe to try and make him aware of the situation. In general, they have had a lot of difficulty reaching him, but Thabo Mbeki plays a particularly important role. Disappointment and frustration have been expressed in this House and the other place about the negotiations and mediation he facilitated between ZANU-PF and the MDC. However, let us remember that that negotiation created the moment of opportunity we have now. He always argued that it was a case of getting to elections and then there will finally be a change in Zimbabwe’s politics. The Prime Minister has spoken to Mr Mbeki and will speak to him again, to re-emphasise the need for consistency in finishing what he began. He can take credit for having begun the change in Zimbabwe. We will press him to be a prominent leader, both in public and private, and ensuring that he finishes that work.

My Lords, as someone who, for many years, throughout the efforts of liberation, supported both ZANU and ZAPU, I say to this House—and in the hope that it is broadcast in Zimbabwe—that I rejoice in the coming end of the Mugabe regime. I welcome the very strong commitment given by Her Majesty’s Government to providing sustained, effective, usable support to democratic Zimbabwe, whenever that event really comes to pass, which I hope will be in the next few weeks.

Will Her Majesty’s Government strongly emphasise to President Mbeki that it is entirely consistent with the role given to him by the South African Development Community to maximise and intensify pressure on Mugabe to quit now, in order to minimise tension and crisis and provide the possibility of a commencement to recovery to a country whose economy he has utterly devastated but whose spirit, manifestly, he has never managed to kill?

My Lords, I agree with all that my noble friend has said and congratulate him and Mrs Kinnock on their roles, over many years, in supporting the forces of freedom and human rights in Zimbabwe. Let me at once say that we will certainly encourage President Mbeki—as the SADC leader on this issue—to be as strong as he can be in his representations for the need for President Mugabe to go now. I certainly defer to President Mbeki to choose how he delivers that message.

The critical point now is for Zimbabwe’s neighbours to find a way to allow President Mugabe to step down and out of a contest whose continuation and prolongation can only bring him humiliation but possibly only after further violence against the people of Zimbabwe.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have left the decisions too long to SADC? Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth because Mugabe took it out, not because the people wanted to leave. We have said before, in this House, that the precedent of South Africa—when we recognised that we would still talk about South Africa at the Commonwealth meetings, although the South African Government had withdrawn—should be applied now. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State, who said that he would be approaching the new head of the Commonwealth at the appropriate time, will regard this as the appropriate time.

It is a time when the Commonwealth can do a great deal. Those African states are members of the Commonwealth. I do not think that it is right, and I do not think that anyone does, that one part of the Commonwealth should make decisions for all of it. If the Commonwealth, as a whole, observed the next round of elections, or the next situation, that would be a considerable reassurance to the people of Zimbabwe, who have recognised that local considerations—and African ones—have worked against them in many ways. There can be nothing to stop us bringing in the whole Commonwealth—after all, there are Zimbabweans in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Commonwealth is ready in all sorts of ways to help in terms of trade union activity and education. A lot is there and it would encourage the people of Zimbabwe to feel that they are part of that family again and have been recognised as such.

My other point is that, as I am optimistic enough to think that things are going to change, it is extremely important that we have the right people involved in the UN. Unless the present head of the UNDP is withdrawn, there will not be very much confidence in the UN’s role in the future of Zimbabwe. Two successive UNDP leaders have been far too close to Mugabe and indeed, in one case, have taken land from him.

It will be extremely important to create confidence among the people of Zimbabwe by telling them that the international community is going to come to help them, but it will be the right people. I propose having Anna Tibaijuka as the UN commissioner. She would have their total trust—she reported honestly on the Murambatsvina. Her role in the UN is to do building and that is what is going to be necessary. She understands the situation, she is respected and she understands women’s issues. She would make an excellent UN representative.

I hope that we will look ahead and not just sit down and wait. We will move into the Commonwealth and we will bring the UN up to scratch.

My Lords, I take the point of the noble Baroness about Zimbabwe returning by its own choice to the Commonwealth and to be welcomed back. However, I doubt whether that is likely to occur within the 21 days before a second round in a presidential election and therefore whether it is practical to have Commonwealth observers in Zimbabwe for a second round cannot be resolved today. In the longer term, I very much hope that the Commonwealth can be part of the international healing of Zimbabwe’s relations with the rest of the international community.

Regarding the United Nations, the World Food Programme is feeding 3 million people, and UNICEF has a major programme dealing with the horrendous problem of HIV/AIDS orphans in the country. Because of the restrictions on international NGOs operating in the country, those two parts of the UN and, I suspect, others, will be critical parts of the first humanitarian response.

My Lords, when democracies announce election results, particularly in multiple elections, they are usually announced with a certain hierarchy of power. If it happens in this country, the general election is announced before the council results and the parish council results would be the last to be announced . We have had the results for the lower House of Parliament; I saw on a website an hour ago that we are now going to have those for the Senate. Does the noble Lord expect the local government results will then follow, before we even get the presidential results? This seems a very strange way of announcing these results.

Secondly, we have heard about 100,000 per cent inflation. Shifting this and changing that economy seems to be totally uncharted ground. If we are talking about the demise of Mugabe and a fresh start, with Morgan Tsvangirai coming in with new people who have never had political power, what assistance can be given? Is it possible to scour the world for people who can give assistance with that 100,000 per cent inflation rate?

My Lords, let me immediately say that the noble Lord is correct; we probably will get even the local election results before we get the presidential count. But that is only one of many extraordinary factors about this whole election. One can only hope that good sense and some integrity from the system will prevail, not least that provided by the extraordinary electoral breakthrough of having had the individual tallies placed on polling station doors and having had civil society photograph them and write down the numbers; all of that is impeding the scale of actual, possible electoral theft. However, delay is becoming a substitute for owning up to the truth of what the real results are. We continue to press for announcements now—we imagine that the numbers have been known since the beginning of the week—to the Electoral Commission and its supporters in government.

On ending hyperinflation, a new Government are obviously likely to need expertise from around the world. There are an extraordinary number of distinguished Zimbabwean economists living in exile in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States whom one hopes would be a lead part of such an effort. They can certainly be supplemented by expertise from organisations such as the Commonwealth. This is a time when help will be needed, not least because ending 100,000 per cert hyperinflation is a very difficult business. It involves a freeze on prices, which is immediately followed by empty shelves; Zimbabweans will feel that they have had quite enough of that. To manage this by using humanitarian interventions to prevent too much hardship for people as the economy is stabilised and the money supply brought down will be a challenge not just of economic management but of political will and of the stability of the new Government.

My Lords, I commend the people of Zimbabwe for their calm and distinguished response to recent events. They have been dignified and they deserve the support of the entire international community.

The people have shown themselves to be democrats and worthy of the real fruits of democracy. I am sure that this House will welcome the Statement, although it can only be work in progress. I recognise, as the Statement suggests, that the Government are working extremely hard at all levels with the international community to seek to build a progressive coalition for real and lasting change in Zimbabwe. As I listened to the Statement, I transported myself to a citizen living in Zimbabwe, who would like to put one or two very simple questions to the Minister. They would say, “We have tried soft diplomacy but it has not delivered for us. Have you got a plan B?”. I feel sure that that is what they would demand. If the answer is yes, what is it? Archbishop Tutu said publicly that he believed that soft diplomacy is no longer an option; we will not mobilise the international community to the point of action—real, tangible engagement—unless we are seen to be committed and giving leadership.

The people would say, “We have suffered enough. We cannot suffer much more from sanctions or sporting or cultural boycotts”. Above all, the people of Zimbabwe are looking to the international community to build the capacity for leadership. I sense, and I am confident that this House senses, that we have now passed the tipping point, and we must not let this opportunity pass without ensuring that we have the leadership capacity to take the responsibility of government and rebuild that great country.

My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, let me say a word in praise of soft power. President Mbeki has been criticised in this House—we have all expressed frustration about the slow progress of the mediation—but it is that mediation that has got us to where we are today: a moment at which, after 28 years of absolute power, President Mugabe is on the edge; his days are over; the regime is finished. We are now debating the manner of its ending, not its continuation.

I add, in praise of soft power, that, for the first time since 1980, President Mugabe faced the people of Zimbabwe without his usual alibi; for the first time, he was not able to campaign against a British Prime Minister. In every other campaign, his opponent has not been someone in Zimbabwe. When Morgan Tsvangirai ran against Mugabe before, you would have thought, if you had looked at the campaign speeches and posters, that his opponent was not Morgan Tsvangirai but the Prime Minister of Great Britain. We have managed, on this occasion, to remain out of the firing line of President Mugabe’s campaign rallies, leaving him with no excuse but to be confronted by a people whose lives have been reduced to utter penury by his mismanagement and misgovernment. That has brought us to this point. There is a good answer to people on the first of my noble friend’s questions.

On my noble friend’s second question, there is, at this point, also a need for firmness. Soft power should not be malleable power. At this point, privately and publicly, President Mugabe needs to understand that his choices have narrowed to two impossible options if he chooses to go forward: a second round in an election that he would surely lose, now that his political mortality and autocratic rule have been pierced by an inevitable second-place finish in the first round; or the option of trying to steal the election. The position of the SADC leaders, the position of the international community more generally and the position of the people of Zimbabwe, in view of the overwhelming sentiment that they currently feel, rule that out. He faces departure from office. We must ensure that we say and do nothing that gives him any wriggle room. He must now confront the consequences of the electoral situation of this week.

My Lords, the Minister rightly mentioned Zimbabweans in this country. We should pay tribute to the thousands who sought asylum here; they have made a real contribution. Unfortunately, a group of asylum seekers is due to be removed from this country. Will he confirm that the Government are considering this quite seriously at the moment, pending a court case? Will he urge his colleagues in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, who have made mistakes before—at considerable human cost—not to remove Zimbabweans forcibly at this time?

As the noble Earl knows, the UK has believed that many Zimbabweans completely deserve and need asylum but that a small group perhaps did not meet those conditions. The enforced removal of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers was suspended, pending the outcome of the so-called AIT litigation. That position will be maintained until any and all applications for permission to appeal the determination are dealt with. In light of those current circumstances, we are of course looking at this whole issue with great care.

My Lords, I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Morris and other noble Lords in offering congratulations to the people of Zimbabwe on their bravery and dignity in voting for change decisively—I use that word because I believe that they have voted decisively, given all the obstacles placed in their way, not least the fact that some 4 million Zimbabweans abroad have been denied the right to return to vote. However, I have some difficulty in echoing the views of my noble friend Lord Morris about the tipping point. I fear the scenario alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover—that if, as seems inevitable, the presidential election goes to a run-off, ZANU-PF will invoke the military, as it did in the 2002 elections, intimidating the MDC, preventing it from campaigning and seeking to return Robert Mugabe to power.

I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that a $1 billion package is being discussed. I hope that it will be further discussed at the IMF spring meeting in Washington later this month. My question inevitably must be this. If somehow Mugabe manages to hang on, I do not believe any longer that we can leave the people of Zimbabwe on their own in light of the bravery that they have shown, so what plans will the Government make as a contingency—a so-called plan B—if the people are not given the outcome of the election that they have claimed?

My Lords, we are determined to make sure that, if the election goes to a second round, President Mugabe will not with military or any other help be able to steal it. Were he to do so, he would confront an international community more united and determined to end this farce than ever before. Let me say for I suspect the first time in this House in 28 years that this has been a terrible week for President Mugabe and a wonderful one for the people of Zimbabwe.