effect of the reported and impending collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy on other economies in the region.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the crisis in Zimbabwe is deepening. We are in regular contact with leaders of SADC countries to discuss this matter and how political reform and good governance can be re-established in Zimbabwe. On 6 July the Prime Minister spoke to President Mbeki of South Africa about Zimbabwe. In recent weeks Zimbabwe has been raised at ministerial or presidential level with Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am glad that Her Majesty’s Government are doing what the noble Baroness has just described. Is she aware that within the past few days representatives of Mugabe have failed to attend a negotiation meeting with the opposition, arranged by President Mbeki? Is she also aware that the students of the university have been expelled from their residences in the past few days; that inflation is now above 10,000 per cent according to the best estimates; that the Government are printing money; that they have issued an edict halving the prices to be charged in shops; that business leaders are being arrested; and that businesses are being nationalised? That looks like a pretty terminal condition to me, and apparently, it looks like that to the Archbishop of Bulawayo. If SADC continues to do very little to rescue the situation, apart from the rather ineffective activities of President Mbeki, and the situation in Zimbabwe collapses into total ruin, is it not likely that the SADC economies will suffer and that aid which had been intended for SADC countries will have to be diverted to Zimbabwe?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sadly aware of all the issues that the noble Lord raises. On the meetings which President Mbeki is engaged in, I understand that this is not the first time that Zanu-PF has failed to turn up, but it is understood that the meetings will still take place. We hope that progress will be made and that President Mbeki will report to the SADC meeting in August.
The inflation is quite extraordinary. When last month my noble friend Lord Triesman answered a question from the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, he said that inflation would possibly reach 11,000 per cent this year. We now understand that any old figure might do, and are expecting perhaps 100,000 per cent inflation by the end of the year. The situation is quite extraordinary and, yes, it looks as though the country is in terminal decline. We will certainly do whatever we can to assist in rebuilding it.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister will have seen comments by the South African Foreign Minister, Dr Dlamini Zuma, about a possible rescue plan for the Zimbabwean economy and the suggestion that the Zimbabwean dollar should be tied to the South African rand. Is thought really being given to rescue plans for the economy without political reforms, which would include the departure of President Mugabe and the restoration of freedoms guaranteed by international law? If Zanu-PF continues to delay and obstruct the mediation efforts of SADC, is there a fallback plan?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am aware of the reported activity by Dr Zuma but am not sure whether it will get anywhere. This is just a South African initiative, not an international one. We firmly believe that good governance and restoring law and order in Zimbabwe are of the utmost priority. It is good that South Africa is now thinking in these terms and things are finally being aired in public. Perhaps it is an indication of the level of concern in South Africa. That is an important step forward.
Baroness D’Souza: My Lords, what practical plans have the Government, in conjunction with their European partners, to deal with the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will soon occur?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we are already providing humanitarian aid, such as food aid and money, to the people of Zimbabwe. We are discussing with our European partners and between government departments what we can and must do when the eventual decline of Zimbabwe happens.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, leading on from my noble friend’s question about humanitarian aid, many of the students who face problems in British universities will be great friends of the United Kingdom when they return to Zimbabwe. Is there no way of helping them with their fees, either through our new departments of education or funds that universities have at one side?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand what my noble friend is saying. Our principal concern is for the people actually in Zimbabwe who are undergoing such a terrible time. I will take the ideas he outlines back to the department.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, the Minister may well be aware—I am aware through my contacts in Zimbabwe—that the country’s basic rural economy is in a state of complete collapse. In particular, animal health services are just not functioning, which means that animal disease is rampant. That is obviously significant for Zimbabwe, but it has overtures for other countries in southern Africa, and serious disease may end up being transmitted, simply because there is an absence of control in Zimbabwe. I am sure that the Minister will be able to represent those views to the organisations in southern Africa that should be taking note of them.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I am sure that the SADC countries are very concerned about this matter, but I will ensure that it is brought to their attention. The burden on neighbouring countries is extraordinary. As noble Lords will know, 3 million to 4 million people have already gone from Zimbabwe into South Africa, for example, and it expects a further 2 million people to cross the borders in the not-too-distant future.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we are all very impressed at the way in which the noble Baroness now seems to answer questions on absolutely everything. I hope that now that she has reinforcements on the Foreign Office side she will be able to share the burden of question answering. Is it true that we have not been able to stop the invitation to Mr Mugabe to attend the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December? Surely we have made strong representations and can have some influence to stop someone who is, in effect, proscribed from travelling to Europe. That invitation is a terrible insult to the people of Zimbabwe who are suffering under the regime of this monster.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it would indeed be a terrible insult if Mugabe were to attend. The Government’s position is absolutely clear: we do not believe that Mr Mugabe should attend. We are doing everything possible. The Prime Minister had a conversation with the Prime Minister of Portugal a few days ago on the matter. However, December is still five months away, and a lot of things could happen before then.