Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:45 am on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 10:45 am, 15th July 2003

I do not want to speak for the MDC, which is on the front line: indeed, none of us should. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I would not encourage formal contact if persecution took place daily. However, such contacts are taking place informally, and I hope that they will be formal before long.

I will now say a word about the humanitarian crisis and our contribution to dealing with it. Last year we helped to feed more than 7 million Zimbabweans; this year we expect about 5.5 million to require food aid. In addition, about 35 per cent. of the population is HIV-infected. The UK Government have led the international response to the humanitarian crisis. We are the largest European bilateral aid donor and the second overall after the United States. We will continue to contribute significantly to humanitarian relief for the foreseeable future. It is not without irony that Britain and the United States—the two countries most regularly singled out for criticism by Mugabe—are doing more to feed his people than he is. In addition to feeding programmes, we maintain a substantial programme to tackle HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, and we expect to spend £26 million on the project over five years.

I will briefly touch on some points raised by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Mr. Wyatt. If I am not able to deal with all the points made, I will write to hon. Members. Like others, my hon. Friend asked about money laundering. If he or anyone else has evidence that Zimbabwean money is being laundered through the City of London, he should give it to us and we will pass it on to the Financial Services Authority—that point has been made to him before. We require evidence before we can proceed.

I agree that it is highly undesirable that Mugabe should be present at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and President Obasanjo of Nigeria, who is hosting the conference, is well aware of that and active on the subject. I will meet the Commonwealth secretary-general on Thursday, and we will undoubtedly discuss that issue.

The hon. Member for East Devon asked about pensioners. The fact is that many of those affected are not servants of the Crown. I am sorry if that argument is disappointing, and I understand he will be disappointed for those concerned. There is no obligation under the Lancaster House agreement, which the Government made clear at the time. The Government are responsible for paying the small number of colonial pensioners now resident in Zimbabwe, who were recruited by or on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to serve on expatriate terms. We also pay British state pensions to some British citizens living in Zimbabwe.

We do not think that it is safe for refugees to return to Zimbabwe. I am involved in discussions with the Home Office about the letter that has been distributed.

In conclusion, although it can sometimes be frustrating, we must work through international institutions and with our international partners. It would be absolute folly for the UK to act unilaterally, and the Zimbabwean opposition groups are not asking us to. On the contrary, they recognise, as most sensible people do, that unilateral action by the UK would play straight into the hands of Mugabe and his henchmen—he would like nothing better. Indeed, he never tires of trying to blame the problems of his country on Britain, and we should not provide him with a further excuse for doing so.