HC Deb 16 December 1998 vol 322 cc952-7
4. Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

If she will make a statement on UK bilateral and multilateral aid to Zimbabwe. [62745]

7. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

If she will make a statement on the levels of European Union aid to Zimbabwe. [62748]

9. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

If she will make a statement on the British aid programme in Zimbabwe. [627501]

10. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If she will make a statement about aid to Zimbabwe. [62752]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

In November 1996, the European Community made £54 million available to the Government of Zimbabwe for poverty alleviation. No further commitments have been made by the European Commission since that date. Britain has a range of small programmes focused on benefits for the poor, costing about £10 million, which were almost all established under the previous Administration, and a £12 million aid and trade provision project with Land Rover, the commitment to which also was made by the previous Administration. Since our Government were formed, we have made it clear that land reform is desirable and justified in Zimbabwe, but that we shall support only land reform that is designed to help poor farmers, that is transparent and that complies with Zimbabwean law. Unfortunately, none of the proposals meets those requirements.

Mr. Hunter

I welcome that answer. However, will the right hon. Lady consider that we now know that President Mugabe presided over genocide in Matabeleland; over torture of political prisoners, some of whom were British; and over other civil rights abuses? Would it not be consistent with the Government's handling of the Pinochet affair and with their ethical foreign policy to halt all aid to Zimbabwe and to arrest Mugabe when he next visits the United Kingdom?

Clare Short

The temptation always—it happened after the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan—to make a country's poor pay the price of their Government's misbehaviour is understandable but wrong. If aid projects are benefiting poor people who are often also the victims of bad governance, it would be wrong that they should have to pay a double price by our cutting help because we are displeased with their Government. We should always review when we have problems with a Government.

We are all worried about the situation in Zimbabwe, but President Mugabe is the elected head of state, not a military dictator. If he or any other leader is in breach of the law and there is a legal process and an application to the British courts, it will be properly considered.

Mr. Howarth

We have just heard the most appalling example of hypocrisy from the Secretary of State.

Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I will deal with this. I know that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Howarth

I withdraw the suggestion that the Secretary of State was intentionally hypocritical. She has spelled out a disgraceful policy by the British Government. She knows how corrupt and incompetent Mugabe is and the crimes with which he has been charged. Does she accept that, in saying that she is prepared to grant aid to Zimbabwe to bring about land reform, she is playing into the hands of a man who will dispossess those farmers who contribute no less than 40 per cent. of the country's foreign exchange earnings? They are the engine of what economic activity exists in that country.

Clare Short

I do not know whether one is allowed to say that an hon. Gentleman is being rude and ignorant and has not listened to the answer but, if that is permitted, that is my response. I said to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) that when a Government engage in behaviour that worries us greatly and of which we do not approve, it is not right to hurt the poor people of that country, who are usually also the victims of bad governance. That is a serious proposition. If the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) cannot understand it, I shall send him something in big letters with short sentences that he might be able to read.

My second point, of which the hon. Gentleman is clearly also unaware, is that the farmers organisations of Zimbabwe favour land redistribution. The large white farmers agree that the land is badly distributed and that there should be properly organised, transparent arrangements that comply with Zimbabwean law to increase the amount of land for small farmers. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is getting so angry on their behalf; he is misinformed about their views.

Mr. Winterton

The right hon. Lady is right to say that land reform and the redistribution of some farms is essential for progress and success in Zimbabwe. I have just been there with colleagues from both sides of the House as a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. I support the right hon. Lady's policy of not giving aid to Zimbabwe for land reform unless the proposals put forward by Mr. Mugabe and his Government are acceptable to all the donors. Does she accept that there is a need for aid to Zimbabwe to help the poor? I have visited Porta farm, which has benefited from aid from this country. Will she consider funding specific hygiene, sanitation and education projects that would be a positive help to the poor of Zimbabwe, which is a wonderful country that needs a bit of help?

Clare Short

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. Zimbabwe is a naturally rich country with very able people, high levels of education and good land. It should be progressing well and it is a tragedy that it is in such trouble. One adult in four in Zimbabwe is infected with HIV, but there is no Government programme to deal with it. The life expectancy of Zimbabweans has gone down by 20 years because of HIV. I agree that there are serious needs. The situation is worrying and the Zimbabwean Government are giving a poor lead. We are reviewing our overall relationship with Zimbabwe. If we cannot work with the Government, we can achieve less in the country, but we shall always do what we can to assist the poor, who are often the victims of bad Governments, as the hon. Gentleman understands, although some of his hon. Friends appear not to.

Mr. Swayne

Can the right hon. Lady assure the House that future projects will be judged against the criteria that they cannot in any way be used to prolong the life of a corrupt and incompetent regime?

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman also appears to have difficulty with his hearing. I thought that I had made it clear in my original answer that our existing commitments were put in place by the previous Administration. Nevertheless, they largely benefit the poor. I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that future proposals which do not benefit the poor will not be approved. It is a delicate problem when very poor and oppressed people live under a Government who do not put their interests first. In those circumstances, we always try not to strengthen a bad Government, but to look after the interests of the poor. It is a complex matter, but we struggle to do that across the world.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Having led the CPA delegation to Zimbabwe in September, may I refer my right hon. Friend to the problem of land reform, which is creating difficulties for the Government of Zimbabwe? If they take land from large landowners and do not have the cash to pay compensation, they are accused of seizing the land. Therefore, they are in a cleft stick. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government of Zimbabwe believe that land redistribution is essential but, if they take the land without providing compensation, they face difficulties.

Clare Short

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend—he led the delegation well and we have discussed the matter previously—but I do not agree that the Government of Zimbabwe are in a cleft stick. Legislation passed since independence requires compensation to be provided in respect of land redistribution. Our position and that of the European Commission and many other donors is that there is a strong case for land redistribution and assistance will be available if it is transparent, properly organised and benefits the poor by providing proper water systems and schools for their children. A serious programme of land reform that would benefit poor farmers in Zimbabwe would get support from the rest of the world community and we are waiting to provide support to a proper programme that fulfils those conditions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Can my right hon. Friend give us an idea of the projects that will be supported by the £22 million provision that has been made for Zimbabwe? She mentioned the problems of HIV. I know that there are very active Marie Stopes family planning clinics tackling HIV and other problems in that country, which desperately need assistance.

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One in four adults in Zimbabwe has the virus and Zimbabwean people have lost 20 years of life expectancy. It is an enormous crisis and there has been no attempt by the Government of Zimbabwe to follow the lead of Uganda, where there has been a marked decline of incidence of HIV. In Tanzania, we headed research showing that the early treatment of sexually transmitted diseases massively slows the spread of HIV. The commitments that I read out include some £10 million on sexual health. We want to do more, but we need a lead from the Government of Zimbabwe and from major figures there to deal with this terrible crisis.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does the Secretary of State agree that some very good black Zimbabwean farmers are perfectly capable of cultivating the land to the highest possible standards, and that, therefore, redistribution to them would not reduce the agricultural productivity that is vital to the economic future of that country? However, is it not also perfectly possible to redistribute land to good black farmers without confiscating it from its present owners?

Clare Short

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. That is also the view of the farmers' associations of Zimbabwe. Most of those who own large farms agree that there is an overwhelming case for redistribution and have made detailed technical proposals about how it should be done. Of course, redistribution has to comply with Zimbabwean law, which requires that the land must be acquired legally and compensation must be paid. That is current legislation there. Everyone agrees that, if it were done properly, it could be beneficial to Zimbabwe.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that she is reviewing the UK's relationship with Zimbabwe, and not before time. May I suggest that it is irrelevant whether the commitments were made under the last Government, as they are being carried out by the present Government? How can she justify the UK paying some $20 million a year in aid to Zimbabwe when the President is spending £250,000 a day on a war in the Congo? He must think that Christmas has come early.

Will the Secretary of State now seriously consider transferring aid, perhaps to neighbouring Mozambique, which is both poorer and more democratic than Zimbabwe? The Mozambican Government would welcome support for cleaning up the debris of war, and such support would send a firm signal to developing countries that, when conditions for aid are broken, donors—particularly the United Kingdom—are ready to transfer funds to countries that abide by the rule of law.

Clare Short

Well, another Conservative Member with a hearing problem—perhaps the hon. Lady wrote her question before she heard any of the previous exchanges. I have made it clear—it is the view of anyone with any principles who considers aid and development—that poor people should not be punished for living under Governments who do not govern them well. I hope that she understands that clear principle.

We agree that the war in the Congo and Zimbabwe's role in it are deeply worrying. We are doing all in our power to secure a ceasefire and a settlement because of the consequences of the war for Zimbabwe and a number of other countries in central Africa. I also agree that things in Mozambique are going well. The country has had all the difficulties that history could throw at it, but it has recovered from civil war and has a good Government. We have considerably increased our programme there.

I wish Conservative Members would bother to find out the facts. I have not announced a review today. Since we took power, the Government have made absolutely clear to the Government of Zimbabwe our position on land. The hon. Lady and the shadow Foreign Secretary pontificate about aid on the radio, but cannot even be bothered to find out what the situation is. The British Government are taking a principled position.