HC Deb 15 February 2000 vol 344 cc755-8
5. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

What recent representations he has made to the Government of Zimbabwe concerning good governance criteria. [108534]

7. Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

If he will make a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. [108536]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain)

Zimbabwe has reached a turning point. President Mugabe has the opportunity to unite the country around him in a process of reform and recovery, which is long overdue. For far too long, dreadful economic mismanagement has propelled that potentially rich African country into crisis. I appealed to President Mugabe not to miss the moment and to face the challenges head on. It is the duty of friends to speak frankly. I have done that in private on several occasions to President Mugabe—unfortunately, to no effect. I hope that he will now accept that Zimbabwe's economy is in trouble and that the international community wants to work with Zimbabwe, not against it.

Britain, other donors and, crucially, the international financial institutions stand ready to help. However, the Government of Zimbabwe must understand that we will do that only if they show real commitment to sound economic policies and if they work with the international community in a spirit of political co-operation, rather than against us in paranoid isolation.

I am saddened that the referendum process that was designed to unite Zimbabwe on a programme of sorely-needed reform was so badly flawed. There was no electoral roll and no access to the media for opposition groups; there were no observers, and scant information was available to voters. The overwhelming victory for the no camp is a sign of the deep dissatisfaction with the Government over that and other issues.

The Government of Zimbabwe must now ensure that general elections in the spring are free and fair, give the voters a real choice and set Zimbabwe on the road to success.

Mr. Randall

I thank the Minister for that full statement. He will be aware that the Prime Minister said in a written answer last week that the Government will not grant export licences for new military dual-use equipment where there is a clear risk that it would be used in the DRC."—[Official Report, 9 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 184W.] Does that mean that this country has put an arms embargo on Zimbabwe?

Mr. Hain

No, the Prime Minister's answer means what it says. If there are any applications for export licences to sell to Zimbabwe arms that could be used for external aggression in the Congo or by other African countries involved in the Congo conflict, they will be refused. That is what the Prime Minister said and that is what the hon. Gentleman should have read into the answer.

Miss Kirkbride

In answering both questions together, the Minister clearly sought to avoid my request for a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. It would have been nice to have heard a little more about that. Does he agree that today's rejection of the referendum proposals by the people of Zimbabwe is a step in the right direction against the despotic powers of President Mugabe? When will the Government match their announcements on an ethical foreign policy? Why do we not attach conditions, such as the improvement of human rights in Zimbabwe, to bilateral aid? Why have we sold spare parts for Hawk jets to enable President Mugabe to maintain a bloody civil war in the Congo? Why do not the Government have President Mugabe arrested for abusing human rights when he comes to this country, as they did with General Pinochet, or is it business as usual—say one thing and do another?

Mr. Hain

I remind the hon. Lady that her Government sold Hawk jets to Zimbabwe as, indeed, they sold arms to virtually every country on any basis—Suharto in Indonesia, for example. We have repeatedly made clear our anxiety about denial of human rights in Zimbabwe and we have consistently been concerned and made representations about the failure to establish a proper referendum. I repeat what I said in my initial answer: we want free and fair elections and Zimbabwe launched on a programme for democratic pluralism, including respect for human rights.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Minister has made a robust and principled response. Does he agree that it was unfortunate that Commonwealth Ministers rejected the proposal made at the Heads of Government meeting in Durban last year for an enhanced Commonwealth ministerial action group to deal with such abuses of human rights?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend is right. A proposal was put to the Commonwealth and I was at the Commonwealth ministerial action group meeting that agreed to, and strongly supported, the suggestion that its remit should be expanded precisely to cover abuses of human rights and not only military juntas. I hope that the high-level group that has been established as a result of the Durban deliberations can take that agenda forward.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a steady deterioration of human rights and more and more authoritarianism during the 20 years in which the regime in Zimbabwe has been in power? Is it not hypocritical of Conservative Members suddenly to notice that now, when we are the first Government to begin to take action against those human rights abuses and authoritarian, anti-democratic practices?

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives were in power throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s when the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated, but did very little, if anything, to challenge that deterioration. We want Zimbabwe to succeed. It has enormous wealth, infrastructure and skills compared with the rest of Africa and is the best-educated country on the continent. If it reforms its economic policies and commits itself to a democratic future, we shall work with it to achieve that success.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The Minister has rightly referred to the wealth and potential of Zimbabwe. In those circumstances, is it not a matter of profound regret that the people of that country should find themselves short of food, short of fuel, in a deteriorating economy and facing an AIDS epidemic? Will Her Majesty's Government assure the House that they will call upon Mr. Mugabe to observe the results of the referendum? Will they also make it clear that Britain's support depends on the adoption of the principles of good governance and that we expect Harare to observe the principles of the Harare declaration?

Mr. Hain

Yes, we expect the Zimbabwean Government to comply with the results of the referendum, deeply flawed though it was, and with the Harare declaration, in terms of their membership of the Commonwealth. It is also absolutely vital that we see the kind of leadership in Zimbabwe that tackles the AIDS epidemic and deals with the economic failure that has led to fuel shortages and other problems. Without it, Zimbabwe is poised on the edge of an abyss and could go over the edge. That would be very serious for its people and, indeed, for South Africa, its major trading partner, and the whole of Africa. We want Zimbabwe to succeed.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

While we recognise the problems with the referendum procedure, should not this country now, with the Commonwealth, tell Zimbabwe that we will help it with the preparation of an electoral register for the April election and that the Commonwealth will assist in monitoring a free and fair election?

Mr. Hain

We would be well prepared, as I am sure the Commonwealth and the European Union would be, to assist with a properly planned free and fair election. Unfortunately, because of the telescoped timetable for a quick election, without the necessary fair preparations or transparency it is very difficult to dignify such an election by providing official observers. That is the difficulty that we face, which is why I urged President Mugabe to look again at when, and the basis upon which, that election will be staged.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Observers of this Question Time will see from the Minister's answers what a mess and muddle this Government are in. At the beginning of this month, when there were reports of the aerial bombardment of civilians in the Congo war, using Zimbabwean aircraft, the Prime Minister overruled the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office by insisting that spare parts for military aircraft were sent to Zimbabwe. How helpful did the Minister find that intervention? Does he think it will increase his effectiveness in influencing African affairs, when at the same time he was telling other African countries that we are determined to do everything in our power to stop fuelling the conflict in the Congo? Is he not even a little embarrassed that, rather than there being a fig leaf of an ethical dimension to the Government's foreign policy, he is now prepared to display on the international stage their willingness to do one thing and say another?

Mr. Hain

Absolutely not. This Labour Government changed the whole policy on arms exports applications. Instead of being prepared to sell arms for internal repression or external aggression, as the Conservatives did year after year, to every dictator throughout the world, we have introduced strict criteria, which we are now applying, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week, to ensure that no country can use British arms, under new export licences, in the Congo conflict.

I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who sold the Hawk jets in the first place. We have simply been obliged to honour contractual commitments and supply spares for the two Hawk jets that are still being used in the Congo.