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Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have held ministerial-level discussions with European Union member states about the current economic crisis and food emergency in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, we regularly discuss the deeply concerning economic and political situation in Zimbabwe with international partners, including EU member states. Her Majesty’s ambassador to Zimbabwe last met her counterparts from the EU, the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Canada and Australia on 26 February. The UK has committed £49 million to provide humanitarian assistance to the 570,000 Zimbabweans most in need of food, including through cash transfers.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. As he will be aware, the situation in Zimbabwe is now absolutely desperate. This is principally as a result of the disastrous failings of the Government of Zimbabwe, compounded by drought and cyclones. Does the Minister agree that, in addition to the restrictive measures against individuals who abuse human rights and continue to loot the country, we also need a positive offer to give hope to the Zimbabwean people in their struggle for political and economic justice?

Will the Government therefore work with our European and other international partners to agree an economic rescue package—a Marshall plan—that would be made available to any Zimbabwean Government who met specified criteria, including restoring democratic civilian government, upholding the rule of law and demonstrating a commitment to the well-being of its people, rather than the personal enrichment of its Ministers?

My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s long-standing and close interest in Zimbabwe and its people, and I agree that we must continue to give hope and encouragement to all those who want to see genuine political and economic change in Zimbabwe. However, we have to face the reality that no package of external support will deliver for the Zimbabwean people without fundamental reforms, as he rightly says. Therefore, the onus must remain on the Government of that country to demonstrate true commitment to change. So far, we have seen limited progress.

My Lords, the fact remains that Zimbabwe is still a very dangerous place for people to live and, as the noble Lord highlighted, security forces there are using draconian laws. Last week, President Trump went to Congress to extend sanctions. What are the Government doing with the EU and the US to build a stronger alliance to force the sort of changes to which the noble Lord has alluded? Will the Government also consider using their new powers under the Magnitsky clause to try to target those responsible for these human rights abuses even more effectively?

My Lords, we will review our sanctions regime in connection with Zimbabwe at the end of this year, when we come to the close of the transition period. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we are seriously concerned about human rights in Zimbabwe. There are abductions, arrests and assaults on civil society and opposition activists. The country remains one of the UK’s 30 human rights-priority countries. We provide extensive financial and technical assistance to civil society organisations in their efforts to hold the state to account on issues related to human rights.

Could my noble friend say a little more about the workings of EU and American sanctions, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just pointed out, are being increased at the moment? I know the intention is that they should hit entities and officials, and maybe they are doing so, but there are suggestions that one outcome is that this is making the food situation even worse for many innocent people. Can he explain how sanctions are working and whether we are satisfied with how they are operating?

We are not wholly in agreement with the EU on its approach to sanctions. During the EU’s annual review of its Zimbabwe sanctions regime, for example, it decided to suspend sanctions on Grace Mugabe. As I said, the UK remains aligned to the EU’s restrictive measures on Zimbabwe during the transition period. We did not agree with its decision to suspend sanctions on Grace Mugabe; we will review the whole sanctions regime at the end of the year, as I have mentioned. It is important to stress that our commitment to the people of Zimbabwe did not stem from being an EU member. We have long-standing, deep relations with that country, as noble Lords will know. We will continue to raise our concerns with a range of international partners and most recently did so at the UK-Africa Investment Summit.

My Lords, will the noble Earl return to the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the use of Magnitsky powers? With inflation in Zimbabwe running at 500% by the end of last year, extreme poverty rising to 34% and corruption remaining rampant—authoritarian and brutal individuals own properties in London and have salted away money and assets here—why are the Government considering excluding kleptocracy and the misuse of resources by political leaders from the Magnitsky powers? Will he give an undertaking that the Government will reconsider that?

My Lords, I will certainly take that point away and bring it to the attention of colleagues; it is very important. We do our utmost to ensure that our bilateral aid, for example, does not go through the Government of Zimbabwe or their agencies directly. We work primarily through multilateral organisations, notably United Nations agencies. The noble Lord is absolutely right: the economic crisis in Zimbabwe is very serious indeed. We are disappointed that the staff-monitored programme agreed with the IMF has gone off-track. Our focus at the moment is on mitigating the worst impacts of the economic crisis and concentrating on the most vulnerable Zimbabweans.

My Lords, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, has stated that the Government must implement a market-based agricultural policy, fully liberalising the trade in grains and paying farmers on a par with the cost of imports. He added that the Grain Marketing Board was allocating subsidised grain to millers, who were selling it on the black market in neighbouring countries. This corruption costs the Zimbabweans in both food and treasure. What measures are the UK Government taking to support the US plans for a market-based economy and to make sure that UK aid is not lost through corruption?

The noble Lord makes some extremely important points. As I mentioned, DfID Zimbabwe operates under a strict funding policy whereby no UK aid money passes directly through the Government of Zimbabwe. We work through multilateral organisations, notably UN agencies, international NGOs and the private sector, to deliver our UK aid projects. Apart from immediate aid, it is important that we also focus on enabling Zimbabweans to help themselves in the longer term on a more sustainable basis. In particular, DfID has two programmes supporting agriculture in that sense, enabling infrastructure to be developed.