HC Deb 16 April 2002 vol 383 cc445-8
3. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

What recent discussions he has had with members of the Commonwealth on Zimbabwe. [45518]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane)

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary discussed Zimbabwe with leaders of the Commonwealth, including John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, at meetings last week.

Mr. Wilkinson

Are not the continued lawlessness and brutal behaviour of the ZANU-PF thugs whom Robert Mugabe controls testimony to the dithering diplomacy of this Government and the utter failure of their so-called ethical foreign policy to bring about democratic change in Zimbabwe? Would not Her Majesty's Government be better using their time in supporting the interests of British subjects in Zimbabwe and democratic forces there, instead of selling British subjects down the river with regard to Gibraltar?

Mr. MacShane

If the hon Gentleman can catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he can ask a question about Gibraltar later—I thought that the main question was about Zimbabwe.

I might draw some comparisons with the constant support for the apartheid regime of South Africa given by the Conservative party when it was in government, and contrast that support with the international coalition encompassing the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United States, which has put a diplomatic ring around Zimbabwe in terms of sanctions, the travel ban and support for democratic forces there. This Government can be proud of the international coalition that they have put together to put effective pressure on Zimbabwe, in contrast with the Conservative party's love affair with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

My hon. Friend will recognise that not only the political system but the economy in Zimbabwe is in a critical situation. What assessment has been made of the possible effect on the population of that poor country if sanctions are to apply in any rigid way? We certainly do not want it to be the people of that country who suffer as a result of their Government.

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which explains why the sanctions are carefully targeted at the elite of Zimbabwe and their interests overseas. Humanitarian and other aid still flows to Zimbabwe, but it is distributed not by the Government of the undemocratic Mugabe regime but by responsible non-governmental organisations.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

Can the Minister list the specific sanctions that the Foreign Office wants imposed on Mugabe and his wretched Government?

Mr. MacShane

I have already mentioned the travel ban, other sanctions involving trade and commerce, the ban on any bilateral contacts with Zimbabwe and the financial sanctions imposed on the Zimbabwe elite. As I said, they encompass not only this country but the United States, other Commonwealth countries and the European Union. Yesterday, New Zealand imposed similar sanctions on Zimbabwe, and at the General Affairs Council meeting yesterday it was decided that there would be a moratorium on bilateral ministerial contacts with Zimbabwe. So the pressure is mounting steadily, but it is aimed at the elite, not at the suffering people of Zimbabwe.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Does the Minister agree that the decision of the Commonwealth troika, including Presidents Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa, to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth following the appalling human rights abuses that went on there in the run-up to the general election shows that Africans are starting to put their house in order with regard to NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development? Will he assure me that we will start to put our house in order by securing significant extra funds at the forthcoming G8 meeting for Africa—a continent where 40 per cent. of children still have no access to education?

Mr. MacShane

As my hon. Friend says, one of the heartening aspects of the Zimbabwe crisis has been the leadership on offer from Africa. It is Africans who have made it clear to Mr. Mugabe that his regime is unacceptable. I am pleased that it is this Government who have increased overseas aid by 45 per cent., that it is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor who has put forward proposals for a $50 billion development fund and that it is our Prime Minister who is taking the lead internationally in arguing against the agricultural protectionism that does so much damage to the export hopes of the poor farmers and peasants of Africa.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does the Minister agree that it is important that the growing crisis in Zimbabwe is not driven on to the back burner because of the crisis in the middle east and other problems in the world? Does he accept that the harassment, killing and other problems that arose during the election campaign have worsened since the election there? Will the Government ensure that the Commonwealth and the civilised world seek to bring stability to Zimbabwe, which remains a country with as great a potential as that of any in Africa? We want to help the people and to get rid of the Government.

Mr. MacShane

The hon. Gentleman's commitment and courage on this issue during the 1980s is well known to the House. If there is one overwhelming case for regime change in the world it is in Zimbabwe. The new focus on Africa, led by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, will be discussed at the G8 summit in Canada, then at the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg later this summer, and Zimbabwe will be a key element in those discussions.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the continuing oppression of human rights. Speaking as a former journalist, I have to say that the arrest and detention of Geoff Nyrota, the very brave editor of the "Zimbabwe Daily News" is the latest in a long list of cases of unacceptable harassment of the media. It adds to the other crimes for which Mugabe and ZANU-PF are responsible.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Given the virtually universal condemnation of the completely unfair and non-democratic manner in which the elections were run, and the chaos that has followed, with 70 per cent. unemployment and 116 per cent. inflation, what steps are the Government taking to bolster the democratic process in other parts of Africa—such as Sierra Leone, where elections take place on 14 May—and what steps are being taken to help the benighted population of Zimbabwe who are suffering from Mugabe's misrule?

Mr. MacShane

We continue to support all the democratic forces in Zimbabwe. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy does excellent work in promoting democracy in other parts of Africa, as do the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office through its conflict prevention fund. The funds for human rights projects that I announced a couple of days ago will increase the Foreign Office's presence and spending in Africa in order to help all the continent's democratic institutions and parties.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I start by congratulating the Minister on his diplomatic triumph in relation to Venezuela last week.

Is not it a matter of grave concern to the Government that despite all the brave words that we have heard from the Dispatch Box, since the election the situation in Zimbabwe has worsened and Mugabe has got stronger, not weaker? Is not it of particular concern that these acts are increasingly being targeted at members of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, and their families? There were 205 separate incidents of torture against them in the last week of March and their children are being violently and deliberately denied much-needed food aid. Does the Minister agree that the only acceptable way forward is to have a rerun of the presidential elections on a fair and scrutinised basis? What are the Government doing to bring that about?

Mr. MacShane

I am tempted to send the right hon. Gentleman to Harare to persuade Mr. Mugabe to have free and fair elections. Of course the entire international community wants proper, fair elections in Zimbabwe. The right hon. Gentleman will soon celebrate his first year in his present office, yet he has not put forward one concrete proposal for solving any of Zimbabwe's problems. The Government put together the international coalition, took the lead on sanctions and helped to persuade Commonwealth leaders to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth. Working multilaterally with our partners in the United States, the Commonwealth and Europe is the way forward. That, not hot air and waffle at the Dispatch Box, is the way to get democracy in Zimbabwe.

Back to