Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 17th December 2002.

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 10:40 am, 17th December 2002

I begin by congratulating Mr. Mackay on securing the debate. I welcome this opportunity to consider the critical situation in Zimbabwe. It is tragic that half the population of that country, which was once referred to as the bread basket of Africa, now depends on food aid. The tragedy is all the greater because, although southern Africa is affected by drought, the policies of ZANU-PF have turned a situation that could have been managed into a humanitarian crisis.

Evidence of ZANU-PF's mismanagement can be found everywhere: inflation at 140 per cent., unemployment at more than 60 per cent. and a currency trading at more than 20 times its official rate. Zimbabwe's economy will shrink by about 12 per cent. this year, at a time when most of Africa is seeing growth, and it has already shrunk by 23 per cent. in the last two years. It is the fastest imploding economy in the world.

That incompetent economic performance is coupled with a collapse in the rule of law and high levels of political violence. More than 140 people have been killed since 2000, the great majority of them opposition supporters. The majority of the victims are black, as are the many thousands of former farm workers who are now homeless—displaced in their own country in the name of the fast-track land resettlement policy.

Zimbabwe's problems are the result not of a black versus white conflict or a conflict between Zimbabwe and Britain, but of poor Government policies. The main victims of the regime's policies are the poor black people of Zimbabwe. For that reason, we continue to help Zimbabwe with humanitarian assistance. Since September 2001, we have contributed £43 million—taxpayers' money—and we will continue to do so. That money is disbursed through the World Food Programme and non-governmental organisations, not the Zimbabwean Government.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell asked why we could not do more. Well, Britain has done a lot. Indeed, we invested substantial resources under a Conservative Government in helping to bring Zimbabwe to independence. Those resources were extended after independence in the form of £500 million in bilateral assistance. However, independence means just that. Zimbabwe's regime is responsible for its actions; it cannot pass the buck to others, whether in Britain, Europe or anywhere else. Zimbabwe's regime needs to accept responsibility for its actions, which are damaging the Zimbabwean people.

Mr. Ancram gave what he described as an emotional speech. He referred to the UK Government standing passively by and urged us to respond as we did in Kosovo. I suspect that there is a loss of perspective here. It almost seems as if he thinks some form of gunboat diplomacy is the way forward. It is not. My hon. Friend Tony Cunningham and the right hon. Member for Bracknell were right to say that some form of military intervention was a bad idea. It would carry huge political costs and is practically impossible. Zimbabwe needs peace, not more conflict. The MDC does not want it. In any case, the region would not co-operate. The UN Security Council's role is international peace and security. The region would need to support any action. That is not the way forward.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Devizes that we need to put more pressure on the Zimbabwean Government. We have had co-operation from both the European Union and the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth in March. The Commonwealth troika remains engaged. Australian Prime Minister Howard, South African President Mbeki and Nigerian President Obasanjo met in Abuja on 23 September. Mugabe was invited, but did not attend. The troika will review the situation in March, at which point it has said that stronger measures might need to be considered. We welcome that clear signal of a continuing Commonwealth engagement and regret that Zimbabwe has not responded.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell asked why the Prime Minister did not mention Zimbabwe in the Copenhagen statement yesterday. Zimbabwe was not on the agenda at Copenhagen, but was discussed at the previous week's EU General Affairs Council. It will be raised again in January. Zimbabwe is raised regularly by the United Kingdom in EU forums and will continue to be raised regularly. I accept that it is an enormously important issue. The Government intend to ensure that it remains high on the EU's agenda.

EU sanctions were introduced in February 2002. We will work to ensure their rollover or extension next year. Some 79 people are now on the banned list; 28 accounts in the United Kingdom containing funds totalling over £500,000 have been frozen. We expect more to follow. That is the sort of well targeted pressure that hits the individuals responsible for Zimbabwe's situation.