HL Deb 10 November 2003 vol 654 cc1085-8

2.51 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they will ensure that recent British aid to Zimbabwe will not be used for political ends.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, we remain confident that the systems are in place to ensure that humanitarian relief provided by the United Kingdom reaches those most in need. The World Food Programme and others distributing international food aid all have clear procedures and monitoring systems in place, and these are working well. Along with the United Nations, the EU and other donors, we continue to make it clear to the Zimbabwean Government that we will not tolerate political interference in the distribution of food aid.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, over the past two years, British taxpayers have poured £62 million worth of humanitarian aid into Zimbabwe. Independent reports say that that has been manipulated to help prop up the brutal dictatorship. Has the time not now come to table a UN resolution to seek monitors, not only for the distribution of food aid, but also for human rights issues?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I have answered a number of Questions about the manipulation of food aid. I have made it absolutely clear that we think that the monitoring process we have put in place is robust and that there are investigations every time there is any kind of allegation. With respect to seeking a UN resolution, noble Lords will recall that in the United Nations there is no appetite for any such resolution. In fact, when we have put resolutions to the UN human rights committee, they have fallen as a result of the action taken by the African group as a whole.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, why does the United Kingdom have a history of recognising foreign governments which manifestly have adopted power by bypassing acceptable election processes?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is a long-standing convention that we recognise states not governments.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that the World Food Programme is satisfied with the monitoring arrangements. Has she noted its statement that the number of people dependent on food aid will increase from 1.8 million in October to more than 5.5 million in the early months of next year? Is she satisfied that the arrangements are robust enough to cope with a trebling of the number receiving aid, particularly bearing in mind the acknowledged shortages which are occurring in the urban areas and, in particular, in Matabeleland? Will our programmes do everything possible to redress the discrimination against the urban areas and against Bulawayo where children are now starving to death from malnutrition?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I received a report this morning from an official who was in Zimbabwe last week. The numbers will rise from 1.3 million to 5.5 million, but that is because we are approaching what is called the "hungry season". So the figures will be more in line with those last year. We are confident, following our discussions in Zimbabwe last week, that the monitoring systems are robust. We have given an additional £0.5 million to the World Food Programme to cover monitoring issues. We continue to feed some 1.1 million vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, including malnourished children.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, did not the very well respected international Human Rights Watch find incontrovertible evidence that food aid is being manipulated for political ends and that some horrible and brutal decisions are being taken?

We all recognise that the Government are very limited in what they can do about this issue—short of working very hard to get rid of Mugabe—but over the weekend did not the Minister hear the American President calling Zimbabwe an outpost of oppression? Is she not aware—I am sure she is—that day after day our high commissioner in Harare is subjected to the most appalling and outrageous threats and insults? Is it not time that we followed the example of the American Congress and spoke out more robustly and more strongly and pushed Mr Mbeki in South Africa into the action he has promised, which is to bring this horrific nightmare to an end?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised a number of different issues. First, how robust have the UK Government been? We cannot have been more robust. A decision would not have been taken at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year, which I attended, suspending Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, if the UK Government and our Prime Minister had not been extremely robust. We were the first country to cease arms sales to Zimbabwe. We were part of the European Commission that agreed sanctions and an assets freeze. The US Government followed the European Union with respect to that.

We have been at the forefront of discussions, not just with our European partners, but with the United States and others about what we can do in Zimbabwe. I have said in this House many times that outside governments are extremely limited in what they can do regarding a government who are intent on repressing and harassing their own people. We have done our best. I have listened time and again to calls from the party opposite for us to do more, but have heard very little about what more we can do.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, can the Leader of the House explain what steps her Majesty's Government intend to take at the forthcoming Heads of Commonwealth conference in Abuja to promote a resolution to the political crisis in Zimbabwe and the flagrant abuse of human rights in that country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we shall continue to talk with other Commonwealth countries about this matter. Noble Lords will know that Zimbabwe has not been invited to the conference by the Nigerian Government, which is hosting the event.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we have been told—and I am sure it is true—that we are working very closely with the EU on this matter. The EU is, in turn, beginning to work very closely with the African Union. I think that the Minister will agree that the African Union has consistently blocked our efforts to bring the issue to the United Nations. Is it part of our express policy to urge all our EU partners to press the African Union no longer to continue that opposition, but to allow a resolution to be properly discussed, as it should be, in the United Nations?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have continued to work with our EU partners. The noble Baroness will recall that the EU-Africa summit, which was due to be held earlier this year, did not go ahead precisely because the EU and the AU could not reach agreement about the possible attendance or non-attendance of Mugabe at that summit. We shall continue to do that work. The noble Baroness will also be aware that there are differences among European Union countries with respect to an ongoing strategy on Zimbabwe.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, perhaps I may take the noble Baroness back to the question posed by my noble friend Lord Howell. Is she satisfied that the South African Government are doing everything possible to apply pressure on Mugabe's regime to bring it to an immediate close?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, noble Lords will know that we have been in discussions over many months with the South African Government. They have assured us that they are engaged in discussions on these matters with the Government of Zimbabwe, and indeed with the MDC.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, the Minister talked about the monitoring of the distribution of food aid. Can she say how many irregularities have been detected recently?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, no irregularities have been detected recently.

Noble Lords


Baroness Amos

That is absolutely right, my Lords. I remind noble Lords of a point I have made in this House before. The international community provides food aid, but the Government of Zimbabwe itself provides food aid through the Grain Marketing Board. So many of the irregularities that may have been brought to your Lordships' attention relate not to international aid through either the World Food Programme or the Department for International Development but to the food aid being delivered by the Government of Zimbabwe. If noble Lords know of irregularities, I should be happy if they brought them to my attention.