HC Deb 24 October 2001 vol 373 cc271-2
7. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

What actions she proposes to promote good governance in Zimbabwe. [6117]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

We have worked hard but completely without success to try to prevent the continuing deterioration in economic and political governance in Zimbabwe. The economic situation is very grim, with a 5 per cent. fall in gross domestic product last year and growing poverty and hunger across that agriculturally rich country.

At a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers convened by Nigeria in Abuja on 6 September, the Zimbabwean Government undertook to restore the rule of law and to act against violence and intimidation. Unfortunately, there has been no progress since 8 September. Commonwealth Ministers are due to visit Harare this week to discuss that lack of progress.

Mr. Winterton

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the honesty of that response. As she said, the Commonwealth Ministers action group is visiting Harare this week. Those of us who have taken a great interest in the wonderful country of Zimbabwe over a number of decades recognise the role that it has played historically as the larder of central southern Africa. Will she say what message the Government are sending through that action group to bring pressure to get the people of Zimbabwe to reject President Mugabe and elect a Government who can give them democracy and progress, and enable Zimbabwe to play a major role in Africa?

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The situation in Zimbabwe is a complete tragedy. Zimbabwe is a naturally wealthy country with a highly educated population. It should be an engine of economic growth and progress for Africa, but instead it is deteriorating and damaging the economic development of all neighbouring countries. There are other tragedies: we are preparing for food aid—imagine that, in a country so agriculturally rich—and one in three adults are infected with HIV, the worst rate in the world.

Presidential elections are due. It is very important that everyone in the world mobilises to try to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are given a chance to have a free and fair election, and to change their Government if that, is their wish.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that one of the problems with President Mugabe's regime is that he presents to the media the removal of white farmers from land that they own legitimately as a campaign to help the landless, when in fact the victims of his policies are the farm workers, while the so-called war veterans have been generously provided for by him and his associates ever since he came to power? What will the Government do to redress the misrepresentation of what is happening in agricultural areas such as Nyama and Mutare in the eyes of the world's media?

Clare Short

There is no doubt that there is a strong case for land redistribution in Zimbabwe. That was the view of the previous Government, and it is the view of this Government. It needs to be done in a transparent, law-abiding way that focuses on the needs of poor people rather than political cronyism and the destruction of Zimbabwe's agricultural productive capacity. The current push for forcible land seizures looks to be more political; it followed on from Zimbabwe's Government losing a referendum and fearing that they were losing political support.

The hon. Gentleman is right that in the early stages, other African Governments had some sympathy with regard to land redistribution and were not as critical as they might have been. That is not the situation any longer. Neighbouring countries are seeing the economic effects on themselves and on large numbers of black farm workers who are losing their jobs and living in poverty. The whole world understands how bad things are, and we are all working together to ensure that things are put right as soon as possible.

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