HC Deb 19 December 2001 vol 377 cc273-6
2. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If she will make a statement on the measures taken by her Department to encourage free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. [21883]

6. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If she will make a statement on her Department's efforts to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. [21887]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

The Government are working with the international community to try to ensure that free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe. My Department has provided support for civic education programmes and the training of independent election monitors. However, recent developments have been very worrying, as the House knows. The economic and political situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate and is causing great suffering and a terrible growth in poverty.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Crucial as the freedom and fairness of Zimbabwean elections in April next year are, what are the right hon. Lady and her Government doing before then to penalise Robert Mugabe's tyranny in having declared war upon the opposition, which could lead to a Rwanda-type genocide? What, in particular, does she say to the Zimbabwean farmer who has written to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)? The letter says: For every day that this situation here is merely a point of discussion in the corridors of world powers, more men, women and children will be deprived of their lives, their dignity, their homes and livelihoods and their basic rights as humans.

Clare Short

I agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is a tragedy. Zimbabwe also has the highest level of HIV/AIDS in the world: 35 per cent. of adults are infected, and more than 20 years of life expectancy will be lost very quickly. On top of everything else, Zimbabwe, which should be a wealthy economy and an African reformer that helps its neighbours and helps the continent forward, is going ever backwards and the Government, who are misbehaving in almost every conceivable way, are causing enormous suffering.

The United Kingdom is engaged in trying to contain the situation and get a commitment to free and fair elections and reform. The European Union is fully engaged, as is the Commonwealth, the Southern African Development Community and the surrounding neighbouring countries. However, I am sad to say that the country continues to deteriorate.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

How can the Government ensure that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe do not suffer more as a result of the actions that we take to ensure that the elections next year are free and fair? We are quite rightly worried about the direction in which events are moving in Zimbabwe, but action can mean that the hard pressed whom we most want to help suffer the most.

Clare Short

There has been some criticism of this, but we have a big HIV/AIDS programme in Zimbabwe. Some people say that we should cut off our entire aid programme completely, but I think that that is wrong. People are already suffering because of misgovernment, and we should not inflict further punishment on them. We must make sure that we do nothing to strengthen the Government's misbehaviour, which we are trying to do. We are also doing all in our power to ensure that the elections will be free and fair, but there are worrying signs that they may not be.

Mr. Brady

If the Mugabe regime uses force to prevent free and fair elections in the spring of next year, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be entirely inappropriate and would send out the wrong signals if Zimbabwe were to be welcomed as one of the civilised nations competing in the Commonwealth games in Manchester in the summer of next year?

Clare Short

I think that all of us who care about the people of Zimbabwe and the future of Africa must do everything in our power to ensure that there are free and fair elections and that outside observers are present, and so on. There are great worries about that, but we should not prepare for failure. [Interruption.] We should not; and it is not funny. We should do our best to succeed, because preparing for failure means that we tend not to try to succeed. The Commonwealth is actively engaged in considering not only what happens at the Commonwealth games but at Commonwealth conferences. The Commonwealth and the CMAG—the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group—are meeting to decide what the Commonwealth is going to do about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Hugh Bayley (City of York)

Although I share the concern of Members on both sides of the House about the political situation in Zimbabwe, can I impress on my right hon. Friend the importance of working through international bodies such as the Commonwealth and the SADC? If we act alone, there is a danger of letting Mugabe off the hook by allowing him to accuse us of playing the role of an ex-colonial power. It would be wrong to give him that ammunition against the opposition in Zimbabwe, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will do what we can through international organisations?

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend. The story that President Mugabe tells his people is that he got on really well with the Conservative party when it was in government, but that the wretched Labour Government does not co-operate with him in the way the Conservative party used to. The story then goes that there should be land redistribution in Zimbabwe, which there should be, and the delay is somehow blamed on the Government. That is a piece of nonsense, of course—we strongly support land redistribution, but it must be transparent and focus on the needs of the landless or of those living in overcrowded communal lands. That is President Mugabe's story to his people. He is using land hunger to excuse what he is doing. It is very important that the whole international community be involved in pressing Zimbabwe to hold free and fair elections, and that Mugabe is not allowed to pretend that this is just an issue between Zimbabwe and a former colonial power.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does not the right hon. Lady understand how many of our constituents have families who are the victims of Mugabe and his thugs? All her fine words do not produce action to deter Mugabe, and many Conservative Members and our constituents have long memories. We remember how many leading spokesmen for the right hon. Lady's party encouraged Mugabe for years while he was coming to power. The party that she represents should not treat with terrorists and tyrants.

Clare Short

The hon. Gentleman is very silly to make such a foolish argument. Mugabe was elected by the people of Zimbabwe. As a Government, we support democracy and the right of people to elect their own Government—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, "Look what we've got". The people of Zimbabwe elected President Mugabe. Members on the Conservative Front Bench are not allowed to tell the people of Zimbabwe which Government they should have—that is what caused all the bitterness in the independence struggle in Zimbabwe in the first place.

I understand that some people in this country have relatives in Zimbabwe about whom they are worried. There are also Zimbabwean refugees in this country and they too are worried. People throughout the rural areas and in the towns of Zimbabwe are worried and I am worried on behalf of all of them—not just some of them.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Is not Mr. Mugabe's planned public order and security legislation worse than anything that was seen in colonial Zimbabwe and apartheid South Africa? Will it not effectively remove freedom of movement, speech and association and is not that an appalling backdrop to free and fair elections?

Clare Short

As I have said, the situation in Zimbabwe is extremely worrying. People are being oppressed, violence is being used, the rule of law is not being honoured, the economy is in a desperate state, poverty is growing and the country has the worst incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world. We are anticipating elections, but there are deep worries throughout the international community that they will not be free and fair. Everything about the country is worrying. We are all doing everything in our power to ensure that the elections are free and fair, but that cannot be easily done—whatever nonsense is spoken on the Opposition Front Bench.

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