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Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 8 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their current policy towards Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House of Commons on Monday made our position clear: Zimbabwe’s people want the agreement between the MDC and ZANU-PF that was signed on paper to work in practice. That needs a Cabinet to be appointed without further delay which reforms Zimbabwe’s economic management and the behaviour of its security forces. We continue to provide humanitarian relief to the Zimbabwean people. We remain ready to support recovery when a new Government show commitment to reform.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Kofi Annan has recently criticised the African Union for not confirming the MDC’s victory in the March election? He said:

“The African Union should have endorsed the results and said to Mugabe: you are not a legally elected president”.

What part is now being played by the chairman of the African Union Commission and the UN special envoy as members of the reference group in pressing for the urgent implementation of the power-sharing agreement?

My Lords, I had the opportunity in New York two weeks ago to talk to the chairman of the African Union and the head of its executive along with the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General. All of them are watching this situation with concern. They believe that President Mbeki remains the SADC and AU mediator, but they are fully aware that time is elapsing and that there is still no agreement on the Cabinet, which will break the agreement if it is not resolved within weeks.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the UN agencies and NGOs now have access to those who are in most need of humanitarian assistance and that the impediments imposed by the Government have now been lifted?

My Lords, I am able to assure the noble Baroness that that seems to be the case. The reports that we are receiving from Harare are that the UN and NGOs now feel able to distribute freely, which is a good thing because the food failure means that while 2 million people are currently being fed, that figure will shortly grow to as many as 5 million.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the imperative is for the agreement to be met in full and that, as each day passes, pessimism overtakes optimism? Will he therefore lend his full support and authority to former president Thabo Mbeki to get this agreement going? Whatever happened in the past, it is essential that full support is given by everybody to get the agreement up and running now.

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that Thabo Mbeki got an agreement signed. I think that former President Mbeki and the rest of Africa feel that it is still on his shoulders, despite his own stepping-down from office, to get early completion of the agreement on the sharing of the Cabinet portfolios so that Zimbabwe can have a Government and move forward. There has been hope that former President Mbeki will visit Harare this week and we think it urgent that that happens.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Prime Minister-designate of Zimbabwe has been refused a passport so that he has been unable to travel abroad and explain the current situation to the African Union and SADC. Would it be possible for SADC to organise a United Nations travel document for him so that he can travel abroad for these purposes? Will he ask President Sarkozy to invite Mr Tsvangirai to the European Union Foreign Ministers’ summit next week?

My Lords, as the noble Lord says, it is quite extraordinary that the Prime Minister-designate is refused a passport by the very Government of whom he is soon to be the leader. It points to the hollowness of the agreement so far and the failure of ZANU-PF to come through on its side of the bargain and begin a process of genuine power-sharing. Mr Tsvangirai has been day by day assuring us that he expects to get that passport. If it does not come in the coming days, we will indeed need to reflect on the noble Lord’s suggestions on how we can push this issue further.

My Lords, obviously we welcome on this side any moves towards what the Minister rightly describes as a genuine agreement. There is not much time left, but would he care to speculate on when we might consider the lifting of the EU targeted sanctions and at what point we might press harder for independent media access? Given that we already provide humanitarian aid, and continue to do so, at what point can we begin to mobilise a vital and dynamic recovery assistance programme? What are the criteria that we are looking for in this very slow process, before we can trigger all those hopeful developments for the future of Zimbabwe?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we consider humanitarian assistance separate from the broader political progress. It is urgent to meet immediately, as long as we continue to enjoy access, the immediate needs of hungry people. However, he is quite right to press for the criteria for a broader engagement around recovery and the lifting of sanctions. My first answer is, “not yet”, as the conditions are clearly not in place for that; nor would just the formation of a Government provide those conditions. We will need to see that they are a Government in whom the MDC is properly represented; we would particularly expect to see ministries such as home affairs and finance in MDC hands, as was originally planned. We would expect an economic recovery programme which enjoys the full support of the whole Government and which is credible—that behind that political will lie the economic skills to get it done. Under those circumstances, we would move to begin to lift EU sanctions and to provide economic recovery support.

My Lords, what measures have Her Majesty's Government taken to inform other African leaders on what steps they have taken and continue to take to ensure a satisfactory viable solution in Zimbabwe—particularly those African leaders who, inexplicably, still support Robert Mugabe?

My Lords, I have certainly been in intensive discussions with many African leaders. As the noble Lord knows, many of those who claim publicly to still support President Mugabe have a very different line in private. They are all well aware of our efforts and we have a growing circle of sympathetic support. Everybody in Africa, whatever their differences on this matter, agrees that it is time to move on and that there must at the very minimum be genuine power-sharing in the country.