Zimbabwe

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 18th November 2003.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Derek Twigg.]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 9:30 am, 18th November 2003

This is a very topical debate. If Members show self- discipline, I am sure that everybody who wishes to speak will be able to do so. It is my intention to call the first wind-up speaker at 10.30 am.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall show some self-discipline, although I have much to say. I welcome the opportunity, especially this week, to debate Zimbabwe, having discussed it in two forums in the House of Commons last week when we heard from many people, including representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change and the editor of The Daily News.

I particularly welcome the Minister. Although I suspect that he and I disagree profoundly about a great many issues, I pay tribute to the fact that he has built a career on the pursuit of justice, and I believe that this debate is about justice. More than two years ago, the Prime Minister said in his conference speech that there would be

"no tolerance of bad governance" in Africa, including the activities of

"Mr. Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe", yet the situation goes from bad to worse and people in Zimbabwe are dying of starvation.

When Mugabe was elected nearly a quarter of a century ago, people were both surprised and delighted that he did not pursue the Marxism that ZANU-PF had previously espoused. We did not appreciate how fearful Zimbabweans were of a return to violence, which ZANU-PF had threatened if it did not win that election— perhaps that is why it won. In the early 1980s, we in Europe heard little of the activities in Matabeleland of the notorious Fifth Brigade, which emulated the North Koreans who trained it. It is estimated that about 20,000 Matabele were massacred.

Instead, in Britain and the west, we were pleased that Zimbabwe remained a country in which we could do business, where we could go as a tourist and in which we could hold a Commonwealth conference, as we did in 1991. It was a rich country, exporting food around southern Africa. However, by 1999 the economy was in crisis, and it was obvious to all that the Government of Mugabe was acting like a dictatorship: people were being murdered and farmland was being seized. By 2000, many of us were calling for an end to all aid to the regime. The Prime Minister's speech that I quoted was made in 2001, and the Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe after disputed elections in March 2002.

Today, Zimbabwe has 70 per cent. unemployment and 460 per cent. inflation—difficult to judge, I would guess—fuel prices have risen six-fold in a year and the majority of the population depends on food aid. There have been 267 politically motivated murders reported this year and nearly 4,000 people reported tortured, but nobody knows the extent of the repression. Rich and fertile farm land lies idle while the security forces run amok and the only source of independent news, The Daily News, has been closed down.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

When asked about the land that lies sterile and is not being used, President Mugabe refers to the Lancaster house agreement, and says that he is not getting the money. Is it not a fact that the first tranche of land that he took has still not been redistributed, other than to his cronies, and most of it is not being used at all?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, Mugabe's cronies sit on their stolen farms and get ever richer while other people starve. That is partly because the Zimbabwean army is looting diamonds and other minerals in the Congo. Yesterday, Welshman Ncube, the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, spoke of the militarisation of Zimbabwe. He mentioned particularly the machinery of repression that controls the country.

We are told by Africans that the western world and Europe should keep their noses out of Zimbabwe's affairs. On a recent visit to the House, the Nigerian high commissioner said that the issue is an African problem that needs an African solution. He said that it is a task for South Africa, Nigeria or the African Union, and that quiet diplomacy is needed. President Mbeki has said that the situation needs to be understood in the context of Zimbabwe's hard won liberation from white minority rule, while South Africa's Foreign Minister, Dr. Zuma, has said that she will never condemn Zimbabwe. Sadly, the African National Congress in South Africa believes that it owes ZANU-PF support in exchange for its backing against the apartheid regime.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union was due to meet in March next year in Westminster. Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela had been invited, and the Queen would have opened the session. However, because the Government, to their credit, would not give some members of the Zimbabwean regime visas to attend, the assembly has been moved to, I understand, Thailand—perhaps a more attractive venue in March. The meeting was moved only because African countries demanded that there be no hindrance to members of the Zimbabwean regime. Indeed, it was only because John Howard of Australia was so forthright in condemning the Zimbabwean elections last year that the other two members of the Commonwealth troika, Nigeria and South Africa, were prevailed upon similarly to condemn the elections. Does anyone really believe that the African Union, founded by Colonel Gaddafi, is likely to press for the restoration of the rule of law and human rights in Zimbabwe?

The Minister has recently returned from South Africa, and a high level South African delegation has just been in London. Will he say what results have been obtained by quiet diplomacy? Will the Minister assure us that the Government will have no part in any deal struck to allow Mugabe to perpetuate the repressive ZANU-PF regime—for instance by retiring, yet nominating his successor without free and fair elections?

How do we see Zimbabwe in Britain? It is not a far away land of which we know little—we were the colonial government that ceded power to Mugabe in 1980. There are more than 30,000 Zimbabweans in this country, mostly black, and there are 23,000 British subjects in Zimbabwe, which is exactly half the number of a year ago—partial evidence of the increasingly hostile and deteriorating situation. We have not only an historical but a moral obligation to the people of Zimbabwe. Innumerable individuals and the opposition want Britain to stand up for the crushed Zimbabwean people.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I hope that the whole country will listen to what my hon. Friend is saying. Will he take it from me that members of the opposition parties in Zimbabwe are not the only ones who want that? Those who 25 years ago were doing much for ZANU-PF, and who were still with it in the first 10 years after full independence, also oppose what is being done in their name. Those who want to work for the people of Zimbabwe should understand that they are fighting for the people, rather than against the regime per se, although that regime must go to allow the people and parties in Zimbabwe to work.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Whatever opinion we may have taken at the time, many who fought for liberation now feel betrayed by the activities of ZANU-PF.

Sadly, too many in the west believe Mugabe's rhetoric. Last week at one of the forums that I mentioned, a representative from a non-governmental organisation talked about the need to dismantle the infrastructure of colonialism. Similarly, the Government seem to fear the accusation that they are acting in a neo-colonialist manner or as an imperialist power. I urge the Government to listen to the people of Zimbabwe, who want Britain and the west to speak up for them. Over the past week I have heard many Zimbabweans who are desperate for support from Britain. To those on the left who suffer from post-colonial guilt, I quote the mayor of Harare, who said in March:

"The world must know this is not a black and white issue. It is an issue of the blacks in Zimbabwe suffering".

The Government have been slow to react to Mugabe's crimes and loth to accept the reality that is Zimbabwe. In a reply to a question from me, the Secretary of State for Defence said that

"the Zimbabwean armed forces . . . have continued to make a stable and mature contribution to Zimbabwean society, which may well have something to do with the training that they have received from British forces. There is therefore good news from Zimbabwe, and it is important to put that in the right context."—[Hansard, 4 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 306.]

Is that an example of the soft bigotry of low expectations? Those very armed forces were then already looting in the Congo and spreading the AIDS pandemic around the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government have too often failed to condemn what they would consider intolerable from a European Government.

The use of food aid as a political tool by ZANU-PF is another important issue. That food aid is delivered via the World Food Programme, but paid for in part by the British taxpayer—by our constituents. This year, the Department for International Development expects to spend £29 million on aid to Zimbabwe—double last year's contribution. According to the WFP emergency report of 24 January, there have been

"several reports of theft of WFP . . . commodities in the region".

Besides stealing the aid, ZANU-PF claims credit for the aid programme and pretends that there would be no food aid without ZANU-PF.

At the same time, the WFP and NGOs rely for the distribution of food on information provided by local authorities. That all too often results in the unwitting politicisation of aid, as party officials determine who is deserving and who is not. In effect, no one without a ZANU-PF party card can register for food aid. Vast numbers are excluded from aid distribution because party officials deny their need, and the existing monitoring systems of the WFP and others are failing because they do not show up those who have been excluded from the lists.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another problem that has emerged recently, which was made known to us by members of the Movement for Democratic Change who were here this week, is that some of the aid that South Africa is meant to be giving to NGOs and the World Food Programme is being sold direct to the Zimbabwean Government, who then control it under their food programme? That food definitely goes only to ZANU-PF members.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Indeed, the hon. Lady has come up with a good point. The grain marketing board is used as an arm of ZANU-PF—certainly not as an impartial distributor of aid.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Does my hon. Friend agree with Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch? He says:

"Select groups of people are being denied access to food".

He further comments:

"This is a human rights violation as serious as arbitrary imprisonment or torture."

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I do agree, and I will quote a report commissioned by Oxfam on the practical implementation of food aid. It is dated 8 April and states:

"Recent field research indicates that practices"— that is, of impartial delivery of relief—

"are not upheld with consistency in the field . . . food aid furnished by USAID and through the WFP is being manipulated by the Mugabe regime and its supporters, unbeknownst to headquarters in Washington and Rome."

Rome is where the WFP has its headquarters. The report continues:

"World Vision's distribution system plays directly into the hands of the ZANU-PF leadership. Based on WV's own explanation of their distribution process it would appear that local officials have complete control over who receives food aid at local level."

It refers to

"extensive accounts of the inability of members or supporters of opposition parties to access food aid".

I urge the Government to scrutinise and question the system by which British taxpayers—our constituents—are helping the people of Zimbabwe. They need help, but it appears that at the moment we may be, to quote again from the report,

"unwitting partners in preserving political power for the Mugabe regime".

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that food aid to Zimbabwe should be cut off?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

As the Minister will know, I did not say that. The people of Zimbabwe need food aid. However, it must be delivered so that it goes to those who need it, not via the Government, who use it as a political tool.

President Mugabe has more willing partners than those unwitting ones of whom I have spoken: that is, the businessmen who prop up his regime. The EU has a list of 79 individuals whose assets have been frozen and who are banned from travel. By contrast, New Zealand lists 133 individuals on its sanctions list. It is interesting and salutary to note the differences. For instance, Leo Mugabe does not feature on the EU list. Neither do the wife of the Defence Minister or many members of the families of senior ZANU-PF politicians.

Of greater importance are the names of business people that are omitted from the EU sanctions list. Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the MDC, said that the international community will not be shown to be serious about standing up to Mugabe until it freezes the assets of the businessmen who prop up the regime.

I shall give an example from Wiltshire. According to a report from The Observer on 24 November last year—the Minister probably reads The Observer more widely than I do— British citizen Andrew Smith was named in a UN report for organising bombing raids in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on behalf of President Kabila. He side-stepped EU sanctions by operating through his Zimbabwean registered company, Avient.

John Bredenkamp, one of three Bredenkamps on the New Zealand list, is of greater significance. He has been mentioned in the House on many occasions. As well as many other allegations, it was reported in May 2000 that he provided half the initial capital for a diamonds-for-arms deal that involved the Zimbabwean defence force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The UN panel of experts on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Congo uncovered a memorandum of understanding signed by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Speaker of Zimbabwe, guaranteeing a $1.5 million loan to Oryx Natural Resources from Python Services Ltd., one of Bredenkamp's companies. Bredenkamp is registered in the UK as a director of 11 companies. It is highly likely that Mugabe's personal wealth, and that of other ZANU-PF officials, is held offshore through companies owned in part by Bredenkamp.

Bredenkamp represents Tremalt, a company owned by trusts registered in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Wight. Tremalt is believed to procure military equipment and provide cash payments to Zimbabwean and Congolese defence forces. Bredenkamp acts as Tremalt's representative at monthly meetings with Vitalis Zvinavashe, head of the Zimbabwean armed forces. That shows his close personal relationship with ZANU-PF.

Furthermore, according to a report by the same UN panel on 16 October last year, Bredenkamp's Raceview Enterprises supplied the Zimbabwean defence force with $3.5 million-worth of military supplies. Our great ally, the USA, whose President is coming here today, has banned Bredenkamp from entry. However, he is not banned from the UK. Why not?

Does the Minister share my disappointment that, in the latest UN panel report on corruption in the Congo, Bredenkamp somehow succeeded in having his name removed from the list of people recommended for a travel ban and financial restrictions? Apparently, Bredenkamp has also recently met the British high commissioner in Harare. Could the Minister tell us why, without hiding behind some nonsense about the code of practice on access to Government information, as happened with a recent parliamentary question?

The Minister and the Government have it within their power to undermine the backers of the dictatorial regime in Zimbabwe. Many of the same men backed Ian Smith. Why has the Minister not taken action against people who so clearly profit from the evil of Mugabe's regime? Kofi Annan—an African, let us remember—said to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on 7 April 1999:

"No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples."

It is time that the UN paid attention to that and considered the situation in Zimbabwe. However, the Minister yesterday wrote to me in reply to a parliamentary question to say that

"we would only go to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution when we believed that we would win one. Tabling a resolution on UN sanctions would be certain to fail and would only hand Mugabe a gratuitous victory."

Perhaps the Minister would like to explain how Mugabe would consider it a victory to be condemned by many in the UN? His opponents in Zimbabwe would like to see such public condemnation by the international community, even if it does not lead to a resolution.

Mugabe's knighthood is within our power. In 1994, the previous Government gave Mugabe an honorary knighthood. I do not remember the Labour Opposition protesting. In the Government response to the Eighth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Session, they said that they would keep the knighthood under review. They said:

"We may revisit this question in the future."

In reply to my question on 4 November, the Minister said that that was not an immediate priority. Does he accept that that would be a clear signal to all in Zimbabwe that Mugabe no longer merits the respect that ought to be due to a President?

The time for prevarication has passed. Quiet diplomacy has failed. I suspect that there is very little disagreement in the Chamber about what I have said. Action should follow words. It discredits this Government that there has still been no Government debate on the crisis in Zimbabwe. On 17 September 2002—almost 11 months ago—my right hon. Friend Mr. Mackay said exactly the same in this Chamber.

I have asked many questions this morning, which I hope the Minister will answer directly. I hope especially that he will reassure hon. Members that no taxpayers' money will be spent on food aid that can be used as a political tool by this repressive regime, and that sanctions will be extended to families of members of the regime and to businessmen implicated in its corrupt dealings and shady operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.

I also hope that he will reassure us that the issue will be raised at the United Nations and kept at the top of the international agenda, and that, contrary to BBC reports yesterday, Zimbabwe will continue to be excluded from next month's Commonwealth summit. Will he also reassure us that Mugabe will be stripped of his knighthood, and that the UK supports free and fair elections? Above all, the international community must ensure that there is no fudge that allows Mugabe to retire and the oppressive regime to continue, led by one of his cronies such as Mnangagwa or Zvinavashe, both of whom are alleged to have been involved in the Matabele massacres.

As I said at the beginning, this is a debate about justice for Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe are crying out for our support, which they deserve. Let us live up to our responsibilities and our moral obligations and ensure that they receive that support and the justice that all people deserve.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 9:51 am, 18th November 2003

I shall be brief, as I know that some of my colleagues want to speak and I had my 20 minutes or so a couple of weeks ago. I, too, congratulate Mr. Robathan on securing the debate so soon, but it is time that we had a debate in the main Chamber. I mean no disrespect to Westminster Hall, but we should debate this issue during Government time.

Everything that I believe about Zimbabwe was chronicled at length in the last debate, but I have four or five straightforward questions to ask. I support the statement that the Government should go to the United Nations. The fact that we might lose is no reason not to do so. I want an explanation as to why we cannot go the Security Council. If we cannot secure what we want the first time, we might do so the second time, and countries that are prepared to defend Zimbabwe's human rights record would be shamed.

I also support extending sanctions to the families of Ministers and others. We could extend them to many people who can still travel and who use the opportunity to do things such as get money out of the country. I do not see why we cannot do that just because the EU does not want to do it. We are not yet in a European Union in which everything that this country does is controlled by what is said in Brussels, and I hope that we never will be. We have a greater responsibility than any other country.

Yesterday, I asked Welshman Ncube a straight question about Morgan Tsvangirai's comment that we should keep a low profile, which the Minister mentioned in response to my question in the last debate. Welshman Ncube made it quite clear that there was a time when Britain might have needed to keep a low profile, but that people were now very keen to use every opportunity and to do everything possible to move the issue up the international agenda. Whatever the British Government say, Mugabe will not change. It is therefore absolutely right to take the lead and to push for extra sanctions. Some of our European partners, who were represented at yesterday's meetings, seemed to take a much stronger position. Perhaps they are waiting for the United Kingdom to take the lead. I must ask the Minister why we cannot press for sanctions to be tightened.

Food aid should be monitored independently. In a moment, my hon. Friend Ms Keeble will speak about feeding programmes, which she saw in action last week. From what I saw, I can agree with everything that Oxfam said about World Vision. I have no doubt that, in many areas, aid is not getting through to the people who most need it. Holding a ZANU-PF card is still the best way of getting fed. We need an international, independent monitoring group, because no matter how good the World Food Programme is, it does not always monitor how well food gets through on the ground in the case of every agency, and that is crucial.

Finally, will the Minister request an urgent meeting with the England and Wales Cricket Board in order to get it to make a statement that the England cricket team definitely will not go to Zimbabwe next year if Mugabe is still in power?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but does she also believe that we should ask people to consider the freedom of the press in Zimbabwe and the erosion of justice? Such things—freedom of thought, the press and justice—are important in a democracy.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I absolutely agree. I recently secured an Adjournment debate on the closure of The Daily News in Zimbabwe. Some people from The Daily News were here for that. It is crucial that it is put back on the street, but that will not be done through the law. It will take a long time, as every time a court case is won, it is simply appealed against. So far, there is still no The Daily News, but I very much hope that there will be in time for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria. There is a good chance that a special issue will be produced for that. I hope that that will help to influence some of our colleagues in the Commonwealth.

Will the Minister meet the ECB? It is clear from what the people from the Movement for Democratic Change said yesterday, and from my contacts in Zimbabwe, that it would be a great morale boost if the ECB said that the England team would not go next year unless there is a change. That would help to ease the pressure a little. It would not instantly change anything, but it would help. It would also clarify our position, so that we did not get into the same situation as last time. I urge the Minister to answer my questions. I hope that he will have a definite reply about sanctions.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The Chamber thanks the hon. Lady for her brevity.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 9:57 am, 18th November 2003

I hope to be brief, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan on raising this issue, which is of deep concern to not only Members of Parliament here, but the whole nation.

Whenever I read newspaper stories about Zimbabwe, it makes my blood boil to read about what is happening to a once proud, healthy and vibrant country. It was the food basket for southern Africa, but now has to rely on aid to ensure that its people get food; 14 million people suffer from food insecurity, of whom 7 million desperately need food aid. I endorse everything that has been said about more effective targeting of food aid to ensure that the Government do not continue to use it as a political tool to prop themselves up.

Robert Mugabe talked about economic justice for the black majority, which is his excuse to grab white farmers' lands. Considering what has happened since then, I ask whether there is economic justice for the black majority in Zimbabwe. The answer has to be no. Despite the reasons given for the Government-sponsored land-grab, land that used to be productive now is not. Some of the people on that land are receiving some of the food aid that is being doled out. The livestock have been eaten and the crops simply were not harvested. There is also the AIDS pandemic, which has been mentioned.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not just white commercial farmers, many of whom were Zimbabwean, who were driven off their land? Black farmers and their work forces were also driven off their land.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Indeed; I agree with my hon. Friend. More than anybody, the black majority in Zimbabwe have suffered by losing their jobs and livelihoods and having no future for themselves and their families. They have been made desperate by that ill thought-through policy, which simply has not worked. On the AIDS front, it was predicted that 130,000 people would die last year. Zimbabwe's future work force is dying year by year, but that is not being properly tackled.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the reason for the AIDS pandemic is malnutrition and the inability of people to resist infection? That partly explains why AIDS is such a massive problem.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Absolutely. What my hon. Friend mentions, coupled with the fact that the Government are not focused on the problem at all, means that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans will be condemned to the fate suffered by others last year. Urgent action is needed.

As a result of the awful and desperate situation in Zimbabwe, the tourist trade that used to flourish there is drying up. People will not go to Zimbabwe, because they fear for their own safety as they read about how white farmers are killed on their own farmland.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue is not only the farms left desolate, but the number of wild animals that have been killed? In the end, there will be no animals to go and look at—none of the wildlife. Some of the terrible things that have happened are almost too difficult even to talk about.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I agree with the hon. Lady—I shall call her my hon. Friend—because we have seen a whole industry ravaged and people so desperate that they have resorted to desperate actions. This is a question of whether they live or die, so they have been forced to take desperate actions, which have a ripple effect. There has been a brain drain from Zimbabwe to neighbouring countries and other parts of the world. Of course, there has been a large migration to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana, which gives them further problems.

Many questions have been asked, but I shall add a few more for the Minister's winding-up speech. The creation of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement is hitting the headlines. That group of people wishes to remove Robert Mugabe by force. Will the Minister accept that the lack of progress is leading many desperate people to take desperate action themselves? Will he comment on the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement?

There are rumours that Mugabe will attend CHOGM in Abuja in December, which fills me with dread. Even the rumour that that is being discussed must be put to rest. Will the Minister give an assurance that President Mugabe or, indeed, Zimbabwe will not be represented at CHOGM in December? Such an assurance is vital.

I am a big supporter of the Chevening scholarships that we run in Zimbabwe. I hope that the British Council will continue to administer them and to ensure that the future leaders of Zimbabwe have an opportunity and some hope when they come here. I hope that there are no political machinations in Zimbabwe to get some of the key ZANU-PF people on to those scholarships. I want them to be opened up to the people, not to be available only to a small select group.

I was disgusted when I saw that President Mugabe's family were going shopping in Paris. We talk about a common European foreign policy, but we cannot get even this matter right. Does the Minister really believe that smart sanctions are working? Surely they should be much wider and enforced more effectively than they currently are. It looks as if such people are cocking a snook at the whole world every time they—or, indeed, members of their families—break the sanctions or businesses are created to sidestep them. Does the Minister really believe that the quiet diplomacy that we talk about is making any progress whatever? Is not the lack of progress leading to huge frustration in Zimbabwe?

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

The hon. Gentleman talks of economic sanctions. Will he accept that South Africa, which could play an important political role, could also play an important economic role, particularly on energy? It is some time since the energy supplied by South Africa has been paid for.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

South Africa is key, as it is not just what we can do in the European Union, United Kingdom or United States that matters. I hope that it will play a more effective role in the situation. Will the Minister tell us about his discussions with South Africa on ensuring that it plays a more vital role within the community of African countries? It could bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe in several ways to ensure that its regime is changed. When Nelson Mandela visited London a couple of years ago, he gave a tremendous speech in South Africa house. He said that political leaders should know when to go, and we all know what that was code for.

At the Earth summit in Johannesburg last year, I was in a lift with a representative from Zimbabwe. I saw his pass and asked him what future there was for the people in Zimbabwe. He asked what I meant, and I said, "Well, what with all the starvation and the awful atrocities that are taking place in Zimbabwe." He looked at me and said, "Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers." As he walked away, he turned round and smiled at me. I want to see the smile taken off his face and those of a number of other people in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean delegation had arranged for two busloads of people to travel down from Zimbabwe so that they could protest outside our hotel in favour of Robert Mugabe. They were brought down by coach, fed and then taken back by coach. Such artificial demonstrations mean nothing to me or, I am sure, the South African population. We must do something through the United Nations, and we must be far more effective. Our fear that we may not secure a resolution should not block our attempts; it is the right thing to do. I hope that the Government will listen to what we say today.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 10:06 am, 18th November 2003

I congratulate Mr. Robathan on securing this debate, and my hon. Friend Kate Hoey on organising yesterday's conference and on her other work. I remind the hon. Member for Blaby that history in Zimbabwe did not start in 1997, and that the saga of UK involvement in Zimbabwe has been problematic for some time.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I did not say that it did.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

We will return to that later.

I spent last week in Zimbabwe looking into the circumstances of people who are living with HIV/AIDS and drought under their Government's spectacular economic and political mismanagement. In particular, I considered the impact on children. It was part of a wider visit through Lesotho and South Africa as well, but for the avoidance of any doubt, I travelled independently to Zimbabwe. I was self-funded to ensure that I could be impartial in reaching my judgments.

The previous week, there had been a lot of publicity about my hon. Friend the Minister's speech in Cape Town, with headlines of "no political change, no aid". I must say that having seen what is happening inside Zimbabwe, my conclusion is that our approach is wrong. Zimbabwe is collapsing under the combined weight of the crumbling economy, the staggering HIV/AIDS infection rates and hunger. That is destroying the present adult population, but, perhaps worse, it is also creating a time bomb for the next. There are an estimated 1 million orphans, many of whom are HIV positive, and children are homeless, weakened from hunger and sometimes abused.

Of course, to provide assistance or succour to the Zimbabwean Government would be a disaster. However, there is a strong network of non-governmental organisations, both international and local, which is involved in food distribution and building up public services. Those organisations provide care in the community for people living with HIV/AIDS and counselling and support services for orphans and vulnerable children.

I met many people during my visit, and I thank them for their generosity in showing me their work and explaining their experiences. I do not intend to name them, but I met many people with ideas, networks and huge ability. What they lacked, strikingly, were the resources and support to be able to provide services to their communities.

I strongly believe that those networks must be used to increase food aid—especially targeted food services—and to build up services to people with HIV/AIDS, including orphans. At the same time, we must greatly increase pressure on ZANU-PF for a political settlement.

My hon. Friend the Minister will cite the work being done on food and HIV/AIDS, but the food aid being provided is completely inadequate. Many criticisms have been made of the distribution of food provided by the international community, some of which have been repeated this morning. I have gone through the methodology, visited a food distribution centre, and spoken to people at different levels in Zimbabwe, and the basic distribution system has integrity. However, there are problems. Organisations have to compromise with the Government in order to operate. The large organisations carry out the distribution. Mistakes have been made, and I have spoken with the organisations mentioned by the hon. Member for Blaby. Smaller organisations are excluded, but as they can get to some of the most hard-to-reach communities they have an important role.

It is a tribute to the logistical skills of the people involved that food is distributed across the country in difficult circumstances, feeding up to half the population. It is a huge and complex job. The biggest problem is the need for more food. Under the scheme that I saw in operation, the World Food Programme had agreed about six categories of people who qualified for food aid. The categories included those who had no land or no other source of food or income, one-parent households, child-headed households, and the chronically sick—basically, that is those with HIV/AIDS. Previously, 5 per cent. of those qualifying for food aid did not get it, largely due to shortages, whereas now the figure is about 22 per cent. due to the increase in need and shortages in supply. One in five people judged by the agreed criteria of the World Food Programme will not get food aid. I have been through the figures in detail with the WFP, and they are accurate.

Even people who get food aid do not get enough to live on; they get 70 per cent. of their requirements. One woman told me that they have food aid for three weeks and they borrow for one. Now that no one has any food, they cannot borrow. The level of hunger is appalling, as is the lack of food. One afternoon, I visited a primary school and saw rows of children sitting with their heads on the desks; they had had no lunch and most of them had had no breakfast. In Binga, where there have been problems with food distribution, there have been outbreaks of cholera. I also visited a shelter for street orphans where the children were fed on a bowl of pro-nutro and two biscuits twice a day for a month. They were supposed to get food from the Government supply, not from the international community supply, but had not got it because the food had been sold off elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

Is my hon. Friend saying that there is no control of a great deal of the food being distributed in Zimbabwe?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

No, I am saying something different. There are different methods of food distribution. The Government control some of the food, and they use it politically. I am talking about the food provided by the international community through the World Food Programme. Some of the organisations recognise the problems, but the biggest problem that I saw is the lack of food. A fifth of the hungry people in the categories recognised by the WFP as needing food will not get anything. Those who do will get only 70 per cent. of their nutritional requirements—in calories not vitamins, which is what chronically ill people need.

Whatever my hon. Friend the Minister may say about all the money that we put into HIV/AIDS, professionals in Zimbabwe confirm that the infection rate is 33 per cent., not the 24 per cent. sometimes claimed, and in some areas it is much higher. I was told by a nurse at one hospital that 80 per cent. of patients admitted were judged to be affected by HIV/AIDS.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Are the majority of the people with HIV/AIDS among those who, in normal circumstances, would generate the economic wealth of that country?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

That is right. It is a catastrophe that I saw also in South Africa and Lesotho. That situation is probably worse in Zimbabwe. There are only 22 testing centres in the whole of that country, with only two serving the second biggest city, Bulawayo. Perversely, there is no incentive for people to get tested, as there is nothing that can be done for those who are found to be HIV positive. They will get no treatment and no extra food. The World Food Programme already gives some supplements to all families, because virtually every family is affected by HIV/AIDS. They will get no medicine unless they can afford to buy it. I saw one shockingly ill victim who could not even afford to buy aspirin as a painkiller.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

While the hon. Lady was in Zimbabwe did she see anything of the education programme informing people about HIV/AIDS and how to ensure that they do not contract it?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

There were posters but the Government are in denial. All the incentives are against disclosure. It is extraordinary. In Lesotho one could talk to people fairly openly about what is going on, but there was a complete denial of the problem in Zimbabwe. Indeed, at one of the country's biggest hospitals, when people are found to be HIV positive, "home care only" is written on their medical notes and they are sent home and never admitted to hospital for treatment again, so no one at that hospital dies of AIDS. They are not recorded as being AIDS deaths.

I went around with some home carers to see the work that they do and to talk to some of the people they cared for. They do not have medical kits or supplies as they do in Lesotho, for example. They are really just a home visiting team, but no more. They are looking after thousands and thousands of people. They can give them nothing other than comfort; that is obviously important, but it will not deal with the problem.

There are up to 1 million HIV/AIDS orphans: single orphans, who have lost one parent, double orphans who have lost both and serial orphans who have gone from one carer to the next as AIDS has killed one after the other. Some of them are HIV positive and they are all desperately disadvantaged. Quite apart from their need for food, shelter, someone to care for them and money to pay for school fees and medicines if they are ill, they also need counselling services. We sometimes concentrate so much on the material and physical needs, we forget their social and psychological needs.

One organisation had got these children to do memory books. One little girl came out to show me her memory book, which had a photograph of her with both her parents in a house in Harare with a nice garden. Now she is living in a shack with many other children in a high-density suburb. Her father is dead; her mother is still alive, but a shadow of the plump, beautiful woman in the photograph. The memory book said, "If I die before I am 20, please can someone make sure that this is read to any of my children." These books are heartbreaking.

Those needs are not going to be met by the ZANU-PF Government, because they deny that anything is happening. Yet if the needs are not met the disaster already engulfing Zimbabwe will also take in the next generation. We in the donor communities should support the local NGO community groups and networks to meet the needs of HIV/AIDS patients and orphans, including provision of antiretrovirals on a planned and systematic basis—the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Pike. What is needed is a working-age population that can function and support the work for children.

Any assumption that reconstructing Zimbabwe can wait until there is political change is mistaken. We need to support the people of Zimbabwe, and use every possible opportunity and every bit of leverage that we have to put pressure for change on the Zimbabwean Government.

The course on which the ZANU-PF Government have set Zimbabwe has turned it from a middle-income into a low-income country, driving the economy into the sand while looking in the rear view mirror. It is not often that we can see an economy collapse visibly in front of us, but that is what I saw in Zimbabwe last week. There were empty factories that looked very nice from the outside but had nothing inside, and empty shops. One of the more heavily fortified shops that I saw in one town was a bread shop, but it had no bread. Doctors are on strike and there is no food. It is a two dollar economy: one based on the US dollar for people who have access to hard currency and can live like kings—some of them clearly speculate on commodities and currency and make a vast amount of money—and one based on the Zimbabwean dollar, which is spiralling out of control, leaving tragedies behind.

Despite all that, there is no guarantee that the Zimbabwean Government will compromise or change. Some say—it has been repeated this morning and I saw evidence of it—that the Government are becoming increasingly militarised, given how they organise the country and some of the recent Government appointments. They have already stolen one election, so we could not expect them to give democracy back if they lost another election, as they almost certainly would.

The UK, with our historical ties with Zimbabwe, must take a lead in pressing for change in that country, and ensure that the international community takes every possible step to isolate and pressurise the regime. Many suggestions about how to do that have been made in the debate.

I was in Zimbabwe in 1981: I used to live in South Africa. The last time I went there from the UK there was a massacre in Matabeleland, a major drought and pressure on local newspapers. The outside world walked by at that time, buoyed up as we all were by Zimbabwe's liberation, and conscious of the horrors of the apartheid regime to the south. Our failure then to insist on proper observation of human rights and respect for minorities has cost the people of Zimbabwe dear over the years, and has made possible the reign of terror in Matabeleland, which Mugabe has pursued.

We know, too, the impact that bad governance can have on a country. Uganda is still recovering from Amin—its economy is still not back to the state that it was before he came to power—and Kenya is struggling to recover from Moye. We cannot allow what should have been one of the great levers for progress and change in sub-Saharan Africa to be destroyed by bad governance in the same way as other countries in Africa have been.

We need to increase aid, diversify the channels of delivery and increase pressure, which includes using the United Nations. I am sure that there will be a settlement in Zimbabwe and a change of Government, but we need to ensure as we move forward that there are no compromises on the need for the proper rule of law and respect for human rights in that country.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:23 am, 18th November 2003

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate Mr. Robathan on securing the debate and setting out clearly the problems in Zimbabwe. He made some key points to which I hope the Minister will have a direct answer at the end of the debate. As the hon. Gentleman remarked—without prejudging the Minister's response and with that exception—there is probably a great deal of consensus among hon. Members present in the Chamber. I pay tribute to the other speakers in the debate, particularly Ms Keeble, who set out clearly and movingly many of the difficulties that Zimbabwe faces. She and Kate Hoey both drew on their own experience.

We return again and again to the question of Zimbabwe. I am in danger of losing count of the number of times, but I would guess that, in recent years, we have debated this subject in Westminster Hall on about 15 occasions. Issues such as United Nations reform have been promoted from discussion in this Chamber to debates in the main Chamber of the House, so we must hope that the Government, despite their difficulties and perhaps even embarrassment about Zimbabwe, will find the time for that to be discussed in the main Chamber.

The content of this debate has been mostly one-way, as was that of its predecessors, but that does not mean that it has been stale. There remains a great deal of anger about what is going on in Zimbabwe. I point to just a few of the statistics about Zimbabwe that grab our attention: 500 per cent. inflation, 80 per cent. unemployment and no foreign reserves. During our discussions, we may offer slightly different figures, but as Welshman Ncube said to us yesterday, the relevance of the economic statistics from Zimbabwe tends to be rather short-lived, although we can always be sure that the figures are getting worse.

We now read that the parlous state of Zimbabwe is such that the Government are raiding tourist locations in a desperate search for foreign currency, while announcing that they are now providing protection for tourists who visit the country. It seems that Zimbabwean officials have no sense of irony.

Some 11 million hectares of land in Zimbabwe are under occupation and are unproductive. In the few remaining areas that are productive, beatings of farm workers continue. That crime is not committed on the basis of colour: white and black alike are subjected to serious violence and abuse.

Moreover, as we have heard eloquently expressed this morning, there is significant political manipulation of the food aid on which the bulk of the population depends. As the hon. Member for Northampton, North said, we have reached the point at which independent monitoring of food provision is needed, and we need to gain a clearer understanding and greater knowledge of its link with the AIDS pandemic, which is a scar on Zimbabwe.

We have often documented how President Mugabe stole the election; the legal challenges to that continue. At the same time he seeks to have his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, convicted of treason on two different counts. He is not confident that he has a case—none of us believe that he has even the beginnings of a case—so he continues to undermine the courts and the judiciary. In case they do something that he does not like, despite all his efforts, freedom of speech has almost completely disappeared.

We must hope that The Daily News, which has been a beacon of independent thinking and reporting in Zimbabwe, will be able to overcome its current problems. We should admire the courage and determination of the journalists and all those who support that institution. They take great personal risks to try to get independent comment and reporting more widely disseminated in Zimbabwe.

Militias continue to grow. The paramilitary nature of rule in Zimbabwe continues. State-sponsored violence and intimidation is the way of life. Despite that, we are occasionally invited to believe that there are talks about transition—as you understand better than many, Mr. Deputy Speaker—from an unelected or stolen presidency to a proper functioning democracy, or perhaps from one corrupt ruler to another. We should not confuse discussions with solutions. We are still a long way from resolving the situation in Zimbabwe.

The international response to what has happened in Zimbabwe continues to be an embarrassment to us all. It is hard for those of us who are so far away to understand the position taken by South Africa, and its willingness to tolerate the situation despite the evidence. As Mr. Pike remarked, South Africa holds important economic cards in the region and Zimbabwe is hugely dependent on it.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems in South Africa and Nigeria is that they still do not understand that there is almost unanimous condemnation in the United Kingdom for what is happening in Zimbabwe? They do not realise that they have a key role to play in solving the problem.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The futility of repeating these comments in Westminster Hall does not stop us doing so. The message to South Africa and its neighbours must be that there is unanimity of purpose, not only in the United Kingdom, but across many parts of Europe and, we hope, in the United States. I do not wish to be cynical, but one of the reasons for the silence of those countries may be the increasing cannibalisation of the Zimbabwean economy, which was forcefully brought to our attention at yesterday's conference organised by the hon. Member for Vauxhall. The fact that so many South African individuals and companies have bought stakes in the Zimbabwean economy at rock bottom prices cannot justify their Government's silence about their terrible neighbour.

As many hon. Members have already remarked, this first test for the rest of Africa and the New Partnership for Africa's Development has been poorly dealt with. How can we take NEPAD seriously and be asked to continue to support it politically, economically and in other ways, when it is failing so spectacularly in the first test of Africa's ability to examine its own governance? It does not have to listen to politicians in the former colonial country; it can ignore us, as those countries have for a long time. However, it must listen to the people of Zimbabwe because they are crying out for change. They are losing their lives, being beaten up, starving and suffering from terrible diseases.

If a similar situation occurred elsewhere in the world, we would expect more from the European Union and the United States of America. Their reluctance to engage in this area is depressing. I hope that, although other foreign policy matters are understandably top of the agenda, the Government will raise the issue of Zimbabwe with the President of the United States while he is in the country. However, other diplomatic efforts are imminent, and it is perhaps more pressing to address the future Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Abuja. It has been suggested that there may be attempts to end Zimbabwe's suspension. On what possible grounds could that be allowed? The troika is divided, but those members from Nigeria and South Africa who think that the current policy has failed are surely not serious. Yesterday, President Obasanjo met Mugabe in Harare, and he left the country with mixed signals. I refer to an agency report on the ZWNEWS.com website this morning, which quotes President Obasanjo as saying that he will consult whether Mugabe or Zimbabwean officials should be allowed to attend the meeting. That cannot be allowed to happen, but, if the same source is right, Mugabe is already preparing to pack his bags, saying that

"we look forward to attending" the Abuja meeting.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the situation is so serious that if there is a move to allow Mugabe to attend CHOGM next month, it might lead to the break-up of the Commonwealth?

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman's analysis is not right, but the issue, which has dragged on for several years, has the potential to wreck the Commonwealth as a meaningful organisation for the future. It would be helpful for the Minister to explain what the attitude of our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will be if Mugabe turns up.

We must stop our lowest common denominator foreign policy. As Welshman Ncube urged us yesterday, we must take a lead and set out new measures to tighten the grip on the Zimbabwe regime. Britain should take its rightful place in this proper debate.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk 10:35 am, 18th November 2003

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Not only have you drawn attention to the situation in Zimbabwe recently, but when there have been abuses in the past, yours has been one of the few voices in the House of Commons to bring Members' attention to them. I applaud you for that.

I also warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan on his outstanding speech. He summed up the state of affairs and set out clearly both the problems and some possible ways of addressing the tragic situation.

I start by setting out a few facts about the position on the ground, from an economic and humanitarian point of view, and its impact. I pay tribute to the moving speech of Ms Keeble, who only last week saw for herself what the tragic situation means in practical terms for the people of Zimbabwe. For example, Botswana has had to build a security fence to keep out refugees because of the heavy flow from Zimbabwe. Some 2 million refugees have so far fled Zimbabwe, and one of the consequences is a huge and damaging brain drain. The food situation is dire, with more than 5 million people starving.

It is to that terrifying spectre of starvation that I want to turn first. Last week, my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman hosted a forum for international and humanitarian agencies on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. Those who have knowledge of the country's plight recognise that the World Food Programme is doing a good job. However, serious concerns were expressed about controlling the distribution of food aid once it goes to the regions. There remains a lack of transparency about where the food goes once it leaves the hands of the aid agencies. In some areas, ZANU-PF has a grip on local distribution, and has even used that life-giving power to manipulate election results directly.

Some agencies are fighting back. They have taken the painful decision to withhold food aid where there is blatant politicisation. That cannot be an easy decision when the situation is so grim and overall supplies are so inadequate. However, it is clear is that unless there is a more co-ordinated approach, with more systematic checks, food will continue to be used by Mugabe as a political weapon to prolong his hold over the country—a telling point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Evans.

Does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for a full independent audit of the process of food distribution? That point was also made by Mr. Moore. Does the Minister believe that that should include monitoring the list of recipients? It is truly horrific that such a tragic situation now obtains in what was once the bread-basket of Africa. Have the Government made an assessment of who is best placed to perform such monitoring, and considered whether that might be the United Nations? The Government have given us numerous reasons why the UN Security Council cannot get involved, but none of them stand up to scrutiny—a point made by Kate Hoey.

The impact that conditions in Zimbabwe are having on its neighbours and the region makes a mockery of the claims that the Security Council cannot get involved because the situation in Zimbabwe is an internal matter. There are clear indications that several European countries are feeling increasingly negative about Africa overall because of the inability or unwillingness of African politicians to either publicly criticise Mugabe or, more specifically, take more clear action themselves. That is certainly regrettable.

Yet the Foreign Secretary has apparently ruled out the possibility of a resolution because we might lose it. There is widespread agreement that there are now sufficient grounds to pass a resolution on Zimbabwe in the UN Security Council, even if it only deals with the deploying of UN observers to see that food is properly distributed. Such a move would be welcomed by the Zimbabwean people, so many of whom face either malnutrition or outright starvation. To put it simply, the Government must do more and, if necessary, use a third-party Government to initiate a resolution at the United Nations. Bringing the issue of Zimbabwe before the Security Council would surely send a message to Mugabe that the international community collectively takes the matter most seriously. It would be a most welcome development.

International pressure can also be brought to bear through the Commonwealth. Yesterday President Obasanjo met Mugabe in Harare. One of Mugabe's greatest lies is that his people are somehow the victims of either Commonwealth suspension or EU sanctions. They are not. They are the victims of Mugabe's tyranny. The Government should match the strong message sent by the Australian Prime Minister to South Africa and Nigeria that President Mugabe will not be welcome at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Abuja in December. We welcome the fact that President Obasanjo has clearly stated that Mugabe will not be welcome. That is a clear illustration that this is not a colonial issue, as Mugabe might attempt to colour it—we must reject that taunt for the grotesque nonsense it is—but a matter of human rights and democracy.

Will the Government consider championing a group of eminent persons within the Commonwealth to take this matter forward once again? Zimbabwe should be an international pariah state. There can be no trimming or shabby deals here. There is a message that the Government must take to our European partners. It is simply not good enough to shelter behind a common EU position while Zimbabwe continues to suffer. We must not shy from unilateral actions by individual EU member states if that is necessary, and again that point was made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby cited New Zealand as an example.

Sanctions should be extended and strengthened to include those business men who bankroll Mugabe's regime, and they must be rigorously enforced. With that in mind, it is clear that December will be a particularly critical time for Zimbabwe. The world's eyes will be focused on not only CHOGM but, perhaps as importantly, the ZANU-PF party congress. It is worth reminding ourselves that President Mbeki received the backing of President Bush for his policy of quiet diplomacy, which we were led to believe would result in substantial movement by the time of this congress, but it is only a matter of weeks away.

I echo the point made by Mr. Pike: historically, South Africa has played an extremely important role in the affairs of Zimbabwe. A previous South African Government dealt very decisively with the regime of Ian Smith because they considered that to be in its national interests. In the last few years, members of the Conservative party have on numerous occasions urged the South African Government to take much more assertive action. They have told us that they cannot because that would undermine Zimbabwe's economic base and stability. We continually told them, "That's happening anyway. It's going to get worse."

Our South African friends—and they are great friends of this country, and are admirable in so many ways—have made an historic misjudgment. There are many success stories in Africa, but they are being drowned out by the terrible tragedy of Zimbabwe, and the unwillingness of African leaders to act. The fundamental problems of the Southern African Development Community and the New Partnership for Africa's Development cry out for action. I am a true friend of Africa—I was born there. Many industrialised countries recognise the need to open up their markets and be more generous with African primary producers. However, I believe that good will will be dissipated unless the principles of good governance and peer group review are adhered to and enforced.

Given the apparent failure of President Mbeki's quiet diplomacy and the failure of the talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF, we must set out a road map on how to resolve the matter. We must point out firmly, but in a spirit of friendship, to the neighbouring countries of southern Africa that they must take the lead. We should offer to assist them, in any way that we can, to develop such a road map, including a plan for a post-Mugabe reconstruction of the country; that will be a massive undertaking. We can only hope and pray that the post-Mugabe era ends in a matter of weeks, rather than months. The people of Zimbabwe do not deserve the tragic fate that has befallen them in the past three years.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 10:46 am, 18th November 2003

We have had an extremely good debate, and hon. Members from all parties—particularly my hon. Friend Ms Keeble—have set out graphically the tragic state of affairs in Zimbabwe. I do not need to go over the figures, as they are well known. It is a feature of such debates that hon. Members ask long lists of questions of the Minister, who then has very little time to reply to them, but I shall do my best in the short time available to respond to the points raised. Inevitably, I fear that I shall not be able to address them all, and where I have not been able to, I shall write to the hon. Members concerned.

Hon. Members have raised four main issues: stronger sanctions, which they want; why the Government have chosen not to table a resolution at the UN Security Council; the politicisation of food aid; and why we have not pressed South Africa to do more. I shall address each in turn.

There is no serious disagreement between anyone in this Chamber. We all agree where we want to get to; we have some differences in tactics, but no more than that. The Government's policy is clear and consistent. It aims to isolate the ZANU-PF leadership by maintaining broad international pressure on it. At the same time, we are providing humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people and helping to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We continue to encourage democracy and civil society in Zimbabwe and speak out against human rights and other abuses. I reiterate our readiness to contribute to Zimbabwe's redevelopment when there is a democratically accountable Government in place, pursuing sustainable development and sensible economic policies.

We believe that the resumption of inter-party dialogue between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the Opposition Movement for Democratic Change is a crucial first step towards meeting such objectives. Unfortunately, the political situation in Zimbabwe is hardly one in which such a dialogue can flourish. Morgan Tsvangirai has two treason charges outstanding against him, and the MDC's legal challenge to the results of the 2002 Presidential election started this month. There have been further attacks by the Zimbabwean Government on civil society and trade unionists and, perhaps most alarmingly, yet another clampdown on the independent media. The Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, whose courageous editor-in-chief I had the pleasure of meeting recently, was closed in September. Since then, its offices have been raided, its computers confiscated, and its journalists and directors arrested. I am aware of the constant violence and intimidation they face as they go about their business, and I place on record my admiration for their courage in the face of such harassment.

I shall say a word about our response to the desperate situation in Zimbabwe in respect of sanctions. With our EU partners, we imposed targeted sanctions on the ZANU-PF leadership in February 2002 consisting of a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo that are to be continued for another year, following a unanimous decision by the EU last February, and they are having an impact.

I am aware of the argument for extending the sanctions to include the children of those on the banned list. We have decided against it as we believe that children should not be made to pay for the sins of their parents, but we would be prepared to consider extending sanctions to those found to be propping up the regime, provided that such sanctions hit the guilty and not the innocent. That always has to be borne in mind when imposing economic sanctions.

Economic or trade sanctions are not the way forward, because they would have a negative impact on the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. As hon. Members have described, they already suffer enough hardship and poverty thanks to the ruinous policies of the ruling party.

As to the possibility of action through the United Nations, several hon. Members called on the Government to table a resolution at the United Nations Security Council. The Foreign Secretary made our position clear in the House on June 10 when he said that we would go to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution only if it had a good chance of being passed. Tabling a resolution now when it would be certain to fail would only hand Mugabe a gratuitous victory.

The EU put forward resolutions this year and last year at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, in which we played a leading part. Regrettably, on both occasions the resolutions fell to no-action motions supported by a large number of African countries.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

There is not much difference in the spirit with which we view the matter, but it is not good enough for the Foreign Secretary to say that a motion would certainly fail. We should flush out those in the United Nations who speak in support of Zimbabwe. We should hear what they have to say, and very strongly put the argument against Zimbabwe firmly into the international arena.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

As I said, we did that at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and it did flush out those who were opposed to it, but the resolutions fell to no-action motions. It is extremely difficult when the countries immediately surrounding Zimbabwe do not believe it is a matter for the United Nations Security Council. Commonwealth action has proved possible. The Commonwealth responded to the crisis by suspending Zimbabwe from its councils in March 2002 following a presidential election that most international observers judged to be neither free nor fair.

The suspension remains in place and will be discussed at next month's meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Abuja. I shall be attending the conference with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and we hope to have further discussions with Commonwealth leaders about Zimbabwe.

Our position on the issue of Zimbabwe's suspension is the same as that of the Commonwealth Secretary General, who has listed five benchmarks where there would have to be progress before Zimbabwe could be readmitted. The Government of Zimbabwe must first, achieve national reconciliation and dialogue; secondly, repeal legislation that prejudices the freedom of speech, of the press and of peaceful assembly; thirdly, end harassment of opposition parties and civil society groups; fourthly, address the recommendations of two Commonwealth election observer reports; and fifthly, engage the Commonwealth secretariat and the UN Development Programme on a proper land reform programme.

I am sorry to say that there has been little progress towards meeting any of those benchmarks or the Commonwealth's Harare principles for good governance. There has been no formal dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition for more than a year now, and attacks on the opposition, independent media and civil society continue. On that basis we see no justification for readmitting Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth councils, and we shall make that clear in Abuja. I made the same point when I visited South Africa earlier this month.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Will the Minister give an assurance that, while Zimbabwe remains suspended from the Commonwealth, it will not go to CHOGM in December in Nigeria?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Government will oppose Zimbabwe's attendance at CHOGM, and I have no reason to suppose that Mugabe will be there. Indeed, President Obasanjo, who is the host, has made it clear that he will not be invited.

Mr. Robathan and others said that we should do more to encourage South Africa to speak up. We keep in close touch with the South African Government on the issue, and they want a solution as badly as we do—more so, indeed. They are in the front line, and might have to cope with 2 million Zimbabwean refugees. We listen with respect to what the South Africans have to say. They have the same objectives as we have, and are working hard behind the scenes to achieve a solution. We see no advantage in involving ourselves in a public spat with the South Africans, not least because we are working to the same ends.

The point has been made this morning that there is no use in African Governments signing up to good governance under NEPAD if they bury their heads in the sand the first time a hard case comes along. That is precisely the point that I made publicly when I was in South Africa—it needed to be made there and it was widely reported.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

Of course we want to enjoy a close relationship with South Africa. Its role is important and we do not want any rancour between our two countries. However, the idea of encouraging informal links between ZANU-PF and the MDC needs to be made more formal if it is to work. South Africa surely has a role to play in that, as does the Southern African Development Community, because unless the process is open and transparent, no movement on that level will be made, if any is to be made at all.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

That is perfectly true, and my understanding is that South Africa has been extremely active behind the scenes. The difficulty is that it is unclear whether the Government of Zimbabwe has sent an appropriate response. However, there is no advantage in dividing the Commonwealth along black and white lines, and to do so would only play into Mugabe's hands.

We have responded to the humanitarian crisis by continuing to honour our commitments to provide the Zimbabwean people with assistance. The latest estimate is that 2.5 million Zimbabweans, from a population of around 11 million, are dependent on international food aid, and that figure is expected to rise to around 5.5 million in the coming months. We are the largest European bilateral aid donor to Zimbabwe and second overall, after the United States. On 23 October, our high commissioner in Harare announced a contribution of a further £5 million to the World Food Programme's emergency appeal for food aid, which brings the UK's contribution to humanitarian programmes to £62 million since September 2001. We are doing all we can to ensure that ZANU-PF does not use international food aid for political advantage, as is the WFP. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North observed that the food distribution system in Zimbabwe had integrity, difficult though the climate is, and I take note of that.

The Zimbabwean economy is in a desperate state. The statistics speak for themselves: it is now not only the worst performing in Africa, but the fastest shrinking in the world. The decline of Zimbabwe's economy is not due to bad weather, as Mr. Mugabe would have us believe, but largely to his Government's disastrous economic policies, which have undermined macro-economic stability and destroyed business confidence.

I regret that it is not possible to find much positive to say about the current state of Zimbabwe, but I stress that we stand ready to work with any new Administration that is democratically elected in a transparent, free and fair process. My hope is that when political change comes it will be followed by renewed donor support and re-engagement by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We stand ready to play our part when the time comes.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

We thank the Minister for his reply. I remind hon. Members that he has said that he will write to anyone whose question he has not been able to answer.