Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:36 am on 23rd January 2002.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary 10:36 am, 23rd January 2002

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis on securing this debate and on the robust and effective way in which he opened it. This is a most timely and important debate on what all hon. Members agree is a matter of enormous importance, not only for the people of Zimbabwe but for southern Africa generally and the wider international community. He made a powerful case, and we are all grateful to him for doing so.

It is shameful, however, that for the third time in as many months this subject is being debated at the instigation of an Opposition Member. It would certainly not be taking place if it were left to the Government to initiate such a debate. For the Government, this is an international crisis that they wish they could pass by on the other side. This impending catastrophe challenges the last vestiges of their ethical foreign policy, and I suspect that it will prove the graveyard of that ethical foreign policy. The Government's reluctance to face up to this spiralling disaster, to take any initiative or, indeed, to do anything, other than wring their hands and talk about talks, is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility. I do not blame the Minister. I blame his boss, the Foreign Secretary, and the Prime Minister, too, because they have simply dodged this issue.

Let us be clear: we are not debating a far-off problem of which we know little. We know Zimbabwe well; we know it much better than we knew Bosnia or Kosovo. We know that Zimbabwe faces a growing nightmare of fascism, the destruction of democracy, the suspension and abrogation of human rights and the undermining of justice and the rule of law. We know that it faces a growing humanitarian crisis, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for East Devon (Mr. Swire).

We know, too, that the birth of this new rogue state is already responsible for an economic downturn among Zimbabwe's immediate neighbours, not least South Africa. The usual suspects of the rogue-state brigade—not least Libya, as we have been reminded this morning—are already eyeing Zimbabwe with anticipation. The Government's response has been, if I recall the phrase rightly, one of "quiet diplomacy"—to do nothing, and nothing is what they have done. However, doing nothing in the face of evil is not an option.

We should not be squeamish about what is happening in Zimbabwe. In the past year, there have been 48 political murders, 329 abductions, 2,245 cases of torture and 992 cases of unlawful detention. Foreign journalists have been labelled as terrorists. Draconian laws have been introduced to block basic democratic freedoms of expression and assembly. Every day, 2,500 Zimbabwean refugees are now entering South Africa. The rand has suffered and much-needed investment in the region has been lost. In short, Zimbabwe is collapsing internally, and externally it is exercising an increasingly malign influence. The international community cannot stand idly by.

For some time, Conservative Members have been pointing the way. Our calls are not new. In March last year, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude, who made such a strong speech, attacked the Government's "supine inaction" and urged

"the imposition of travel bans and criminal investigations of those of Mugabe's henchmen who sustain him in his murderous and repressive regime".—[Hansard, 27 March 2001; Vol. 365, c. 800.]

I remind hon. Members that my right hon. Friend was mocked by the Government for making those suggestions. Yet despite the previous Foreign Secretary deriding him then and the current Foreign Secretary deriding me now for proposing targeted sanctions against Mugabe, his henchmen and their ill-gotten foreign stashes, there are at last faint signs that the Government are beginning timidly to give support to those—including the United States, which has been robust on this matter for a long time, and now Europe—who are now moving in this direction.

Bringing Mugabe to book even at this eleventh hour must be the immediate objective. He must be brought to see the downside of ignoring the democratic norm and the weight of international opinion behind it. With our associations with Zimbabwe, we can no longer shelter behind the lily-livered shield of post-colonial sensitivity. It did not stop the Prime Minister jumping in with both feet in India to offer advice on Kashmir, so why are we so sensitive about Zimbabwe? If we have a constructive contribution to make—I believe that we have—we should make it and not just talk about it.

Action cannot wait. It is clear that President Mugabe has no intention of keeping his promises to ensure free and fair elections. Already this week, we have seen the first Movement for Democratic Change rally of the presidential campaign tear-gassed by the police. That will not be the last time that we see that.

We know that international action must, above all, involve Zimbabwe's long-suffering neighbours, especially South Africa. In the end, they can exert the greatest pressure on Mugabe and his henchmen. What assistance are the Government offering those countries that we must seek to bring into the international coalition to deal with this problem? In the other great international coalition, both Pakistan and India have received substantial packages of support, so what proposals does the Minister have for south African countries whose assistance we also need?

Tony Worthington asked what action could be taken. He must have heard from many speakers that the actions that we can take are now clear. They include international sanctions targeted personally against Zimbabwe's elite and, as the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, suspension from the Commonwealth. They also include suspension from the Southern African Development Community and from other organisations that convey respectability. What action are the Government taking to initiate such procedures? In the event of other developments, such as the rumoured possibility of an army takeover and the postponement of the presidential elections, can the Government tell us what contingent response has been prepared to meet such a situation?

A lot can be done, so why are the Government still dragging their feet? It is not for the want of fine words. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East reminded us what the Prime Minister said in his great "I will mend the world" speech that he delivered to the Labour party conference in October. It worth recalling the words that he used. He talked about

"no tolerance of . . . the activities of Mr. Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe".

"No tolerance". Strong words, but what did they mean? From the inaction that we have seen, they were not worth the breath with which they were uttered. They created false hope that has now been dashed by "supine inaction". That inaction continues.

The Foreign Secretary goes to central Africa, where he is today, but he does not go anywhere near Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister—the man who spoke of "no tolerance"—goes to Africa later this month or early next month and we are told that he too will give Zimbabwe a wide berth. Once again, there will be more talks—of that we can be sure—but Zimbabwe does not need more talks. It needs action.

I should like to quote a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, who said this week:

"We are fighting on all fronts using the only tools we have—the truth, the written and spoken word, and the courage of our leadership and membership throughout the country."

A spokesman of the MDC said recently:

"In this deteriorating situation where the abuse of civil and human rights has become commonplace, where fear rules and freedoms exist in word only, we urge the European Union to take appropriate measures . . . We urge the governments of Europe to remember the pledge made at Nuremberg—'Never again'."

Never again—that should be the wake-up call to this Government, whose inaction on Zimbabwe to date has been a disgrace and a betrayal of the values for which this country should stand.

We owe Zimbabwe our support. There is still time—just. If the Foreign Secretary has not the stomach for this task, he should make way for someone who does.