HC Deb 14 March 2001 vol 364 cc1007-9
3. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

If she will make a statement on aid to Zimbabwe. [152211]

4. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

When she will next travel to Zimbabwe to discuss aid provision; and if she will make a statement. [152212]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

The economic and political situation in Zimbabwe is deeply worrying. The rule of law is increasingly being disregarded. The economy is set to shrink by a further 6 per cent. this year and the poor of Zimbabwe in particular are suffering badly—jobs are being lost, prices are increasing and there is now a potential for food shortages.

I have kept the UK development programme under close review since 1997. We have made it clear since 1997 that we support land reform in Zimbabwe, that the United Kingdom has fulfilled its commitments under the Lancaster house agreement and that henceforth we will fund land reform only if it is transparent and provides land to poor farmers. No such proposals have come forward.

I have recently authorised a £20 million HIV/AIDS programme because one in four adult Zimbabweans are HIV positive, and the country has lost 20 years in average life expectancy. I hope that the House will agree that we should do what we can to lessen the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe as a result of the terrible behaviour of their Government.

Mr. Leigh

The Secretary of State said last month: for us to be making a loud noise … inflames … President Mugabe. Is it her view that one should not make a loud noise when confronted with evil, when the Movement for Democratic Change is driven underground, when President Chirac entertains this dictator to tea, and when British farmers are terrorised? The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is a Secretary of State who does not make a loud noise.

Clare Short

If making a loud noise would change the world, the hon. Gentleman would have achieved a lot more than he has achieved in his political life. The situation in Zimbabwe is so serious, causes so much desperate suffering to all the people of Zimbabwe and is so threatening to the economy of the whole of southern Africa that we should all be deadly serious and try to do everything that we can to prevent that suffering and bring the situation to an end.

Making the kind of noises that President Mugabe wants to hear as he loses political support in his country means that he can go back to his heyday when the country became independent, it plays into his hands and does not help the situation in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Fabricant

Is the Secretary of State aware that a week ago Sunday a 72-year-old lady farmer—a sprightly lady—went for a walk with her three dogs? As she left the farm gates, she was shot down by 15 bullets from AK47s. She died instantly. The Secretary of State will know that the Government are giving £11 million to Zimbabwe in aid this year, in addition to the European Union contribution. She fought consistently against the South African regime after she entered Parliament in 1983 and consistently argued for sanctions against South Africa. Does she not think that now is the time for sanctions against—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has spoken for far too long. I must ask for briefer questions.

Clare Short

I am well aware of the recent death of that old lady. I am aware also that during the election campaign many black Zimbabweans as well as white farmers were killed, often only because they dared to support the opposition. Teachers were raped because they were seen to be opinion formers in rural areas. The situation is outrageous and terrible.

I agree that all decent people should do everything in their power to try to bring about a major change in the governance of Zimbabwe. However, people who are suffering from HIV/AIDS and receiving no support from their Government, in the absence of a prevention programmes, should not pay the price of President Mugabe's mis-government. Throughout the world, we should do what we can to support liberty and to support those who are suffering, and that is what we are doing in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether she or any of her officials have met the delegation of members from the Movement for Democratic Change, who are here from Zimbabwe? They are led by David Coltart MP, who was a justice shadow Minister. If not, would my right hon. Friend like to come to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Room at 4 o'clock, or send a representative, where the delegation will be briefing Members on the situation in Zimbabwe?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have met the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change; indeed, I sat next to him at a TUC dinner. He is an impressive man with a long record of commitment to democratic trade unionism and democracy generally. I was not aware that there was a delegation in the country. I do not think that I am free at 4 o'clock, but if I can manage to meet any members of that delegation, I shall be delighted to do so.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us, including herself, who supported all the way the liberation movement in Zimbabwe now view with contempt what is happening? Does she also agree that, unfortunately, it is not the rule of law that exists in Zimbabwe, but the law of thuggery? That should be condemned by all who believe that murder and the intimidation of judges, and the rest, should be condemned at every opportunity.

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a tragedy for Zimbabwe. President Mugabe, who had a proud record of leading his country to independence has now despoiled that record. That is a tragedy for him and for the country. We must hope that there will be a change of Government as rapidly as possible.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

When I was in Zimbabwe just over a fortnight ago, the question on people's lips was, "What price the UK's ethical foreign policy now?" As the Secretary of State knows, four Select Committees, reporting on strategic export controls, have condemned the Government for a serious error of judgment in providing arms and military spares to Zimbabwe. The report published this morning concluded that the Government's response on licences was inaccurate.

Can we now know whether any of the responses from the right hon. Lady's Department were inaccurate? What objections did her Department raise to the licences being granted at the time? If she made any objections, what reasons were given to her for her colleagues ignoring those objections? On how many other occasions has her advice been sidelined? She cannot even get her legislation through the House; she has to give it to a Back-Bench Member to introduce in a ten-minute Bill. How can we help her to make the other members of the Cabinet listen to her voice and to bring an ethical and moral foreign policy into a reality?

Clare Short

There could be no better Opposition Member to second the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter); they are quite a team. The Government have massively strengthened controls on arms exports, way beyond the activities of the Conservative Government, of whom she was a member.

I had no part in the report that was published this morning. I have not read it and I did not give evidence to the Select Committees. [Interruption.] It is no good laughing. The hon. Lady knows about the way in which government works, or perhaps that has passed her by, as most other things do.

Forward to