HC Deb 25 June 2002 vol 387 cc723-8
3. Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater)

If he will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe. [62106]

6. Barbara Follett (Stevenage)

What recent discussions he has had with Commonwealth colleagues on Zimbabwe. [62109]

10. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

What recent discussions he has had with other Commonwealth Governments about Zimbabwe. [62113]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Let me begin by condemning the extraordinary and reprehensible decision of ZANU-PF to order farmers in Zimbabwe to stop farming and to drive them and their workers off the land, at a time when the people of Zimbabwe face a level of starvation unparalleled in their recent history, most of which is due not to drought, but to deliberate decisions of the Mugabe regime. Zimbabwe's only way back from disaster is through the restoration of the rule of law, an end to political violence, an end to the intimidation and arrest of journalists and the free press, a return to democratic legitimacy, and the adoption of credible economic policies.

Our approach to Zimbabwe has been to create and sustain an effective international coalition. All along, ZANU-PF has been desperate to present itself as a colonial victim of the United Kingdom. In contrast, ZANU-PF is now set against the whole of the international community. We have worked closely with the European Union, the United States, the Commonwealth and others. The EU has imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on 20 leading members of ZANU-PF, and an arms embargo. EU applicant states, the United States, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland have imposed similar measures. The Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe from its councils.

We welcome recent efforts by the Governments of South Africa and Nigeria to promote reconciliation in Zimbabwe, and we deplore the recent decision by ZANU-PF to pull out of talks with the Movement for Democratic Change.

I and my ministerial colleagues keep in close contact with Commonwealth partners on Zimbabwe. My most recent such meeting was last week, on 20 June, with South African Foreign Minister Zuma.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger

I thank the Secretary of State for that comprehensive set of answers. With the G8 summit coming up, what will the right hon. Gentleman be saying to the G8? Will he be able to pressurise the group into making firm commitments to sort out the situation in Zimbabwe and to make sure that President Mugabe realises just what the feeling of the international community is? It is all very well going round and round the bush, but we must stop the situation before there is a disaster.

Mr. Straw

Because I am not a Head of Government, I shall not be attending the Heads of Government meeting of the G8 that is coming up. However, the matter was discussed at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting two weeks ago, and there is overwhelming opposition to what has been happening in Zimbabwe, and a determination on the part of the international community, which includes the European Union, the United States, and as far as the G8 is concerned, also Russia and Japan, and many other nations, including those of the Commonwealth African group, to see effective action taken against Zimbabwe. I understand the frustration and anger felt in all quarters about what has happened in Zimbabwe—a man-made tragedy, brought on by Mugabe—but I also ask the House to appreciate that we must work collectively with our international partners, if we are to be effective in dealing with Mugabe.

Barbara Follett

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and for the work that he is doing on the issue. Will he share with the House his assessment of the effect that EU sanctions are having in Zimbabwe, particularly in the light of Mr. Mugabe's presence in Rome?

Mr. Straw

There is no doubt that the travel sanctions taken against Mr. Mugabe and 19 other members of the ZANU-PF regime have been both highly disruptive and humiliating to that regime. That is evidenced by some strident criticism made recently by none other than one of Mr. Mugabe's former henchmen, Mr. Andrew Ndlovu, the secretary of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association, who criticised Mr. Mugabe for trying to get out of the so-called smart sanctions to enable them to travel all over the world". I should also explain to my hon. Friend that it was always acknowledged in the EU common position, as it has been by the United States, that sanctions on the travel of regimes such as that of Mugabe are qualified by our international treaty obligations. It is for that reason that the United States had to admit Mr. Mugabe to a United Nations conference and that European nations have had to admit representatives of the ZANU-PF regime to international conferences inside the European Union. None the less, the sanctions are proving effective.

Mr. Miller

A week ago on Sunday, I had the privilege to be in Manchester at a business awards ceremony for the Asian community. In particular, British citizens who came here from Uganda brought to my attention the problems that they face. The event was a great celebration of the contribution that that community, among others, has made to British society.

One business man raised with me his hope that the Foreign Secretary will use the opportunity of the Commonwealth games in a couple of weeks' time to meet as many visiting Heads of Government and leading politicians as possible, so as to reinforce the message to Zimbabwe that its actions are intolerable and that the whole Commonwealth will no longer stand for its activities.

Mr. Straw

I shall certainly do that. Of course, it is a matter of record that it was a decision taken by Prime Minister Howard of Australia, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Mbeki of South Africa that led to the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth because of the way in which it had rigged the elections in March.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

Given the fact that the BBC World Service is the leading international broadcaster in Zimbabwe, providing the Zimbabwean people with free and independent news at a time when press freedom has been so curtailed, will the Foreign Secretary lend his weight to ensuring a realistic funding settlement in the imminent spending review?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman—I am very grateful for the question; more questions like it would be only too gratefully received as we reach conclusions on the spending review—that I shall certainly be doing exactly what he describes, as I shall in respect of the British Council and the Foreign Office's main budget.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I am sure that the whole House is delighted.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the allegations that much of the land that has been seized by Mugabe's thugs has been given to his cronies and members of his family? If that is true, has he made specific representations on that point?

Mr. Straw

Yes to both questions. That issue may offer a large explanation of why a country that is naturally rich and that once supplied agricultural produce to the whole of southern Africa can now produce only 850,000 tonnes of cereal, as opposed to a requirement of 2.7 million tonnes. The land has not even been handed over to ordinary black farmers, but to Mugabe's henchpeople. It includes 300.000 acres of prime land seized from commercial farmers and handed out to Mugabe's closest allies, including 10 Cabinet Ministers, seven Members of Parliament and Mugabe's brother in law, the aptly named Reward Marufe.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as the Commonwealth, the European Union has a very important continuing role to play in relation to Zimbabwe, and that through its arms embargo, freeze on assets and travel restrictions, it should continue to flex its muscles in response to the political violence and human rights violations there? What discussions has he had with his EU counterparts in relation to Zimbabwe and are any further targeted sanctions planned in response to the recent deterioration in human rights? What will be the objectives of those sanctions and the EU's common foreign and security policy in relation to Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw

The objective of the sanctions, as of the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, is to secure one end: the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and economic stability to that country, and at the same time to ensure that any such sanctions do not penalise the poor people of Zimbabwe. The issue is continually discussed with my European Union colleagues, and the overall question of the sanctions that have been taken and the common position—as it is called by the European Union—will be reviewed by the General Affairs Council at its meeting in late July.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Zimbabwe under President Mugabe is a country in free-fall in which ordinary citizens suffer the most? Is he aware that inflation is running at 112 per cent., that two thirds of the population are unemployed, that foreign direct investment has fallen from $430 million in 1998 to $4 million in 2001, and that, since 1998, 500,000 people have died as a result of contracting HIV?

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that production of maize is 77 per cent. less than it was two years ago? In a country that was the granary of southern Africa, farmers are now forbidden by law to work their land when there is a threat of massive food shortages. Is this not truly the theatre of the absurd?

May I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider this question on behalf of Her Majesty's Government? If events in Zimbabwe conspire to create a massive refugee problem, will the United Kingdom honour not only its legal, but its moral obligations towards the people of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would expect that the next time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks a question, it will be shorter than that.

Mr. Straw

It would be absurd, but for the fact that it is entirely deliberate, and we need to be aware of that. This is a natural consequence of deliberate policies embarked upon by Mugabe—rationally, but amorally and wrongly.

On refugees, the Government stand ready, as we always have done, to meet our full obligations under the 1951 convention. I just say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman: the countries that will principally suffer from refugees from Zimbabwe in future, as they already have, are those that border Zimbabwe. The crisis has its epicentre in Zimbabwe, but it is now moving out to the whole of southern Africa. Yes, the Zimbabwe dollar is in free-fall, but the rand, too, has suffered badly, and hundreds of refugees are streaming across the borders into South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Hon. Members know, and have heard again today, about the depth of the crisis facing Zimbabwe, not least the decision to close more than 2,000 farms within the next 15 days amid terrible food shortages. But what the House really wants to know is what the Government are going to do to change the situation. In the light not only of Mugabe's visit to Rome, but of his visit to New York in May, his wife's visit to Spain to go shopping and his police chief's visit to France in May, does the Secretary of State really believe that Mugabe's henchmen are experiencing the isolation that he talked about, or does he not rather agree with the author of the recent International Crisis Group report, John Prendergast, that the sanctions as they are currently applied are a joke?

Mr. Straw

A year ago, President Mugabe expected to be treated, and was treated in capitals around the world, as a legitimate head of state. Today, he is condemned by the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United States. He is increasingly shunned by other African Governments and has been declared by the International Monetary Fund to be in non-co-operation and subject to sanctions and suspensions. That international consensus has come about not least as a result of the painstaking diplomatic activity of the British Government.

Listen carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman says about the matter. As ever, his attitude is discordant not only with Members on this side of the House, but with those on his own side. I have listened to him on the radio. He constantly calls for things to be done—I agree with him about that—but when he is pressed on what should be done, he says, as he did this morning that there has to be an international coalition put together. What does he think that we have been doing but putting together an international coalition with the European Union. the Commonwealth, the United States and many other Governments, as well as actively supporting the southern African development consortium?

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: I think we shouldn't try to do anything on our own". So he accepts the fact that there are clear limits on Britain acting by itself. We must have an international consensus, and that is what we have been actively working for over the past year. Since he makes a slightly disobliging point, I point out that it is a matter for debate whether, with his approach to the European Union, he would have accomplished anything like our achievements with the EU.

Mr. Ancram

But does not the Foreign Secretary understand that the people of Zimbabwe want to know what will be done to change things, not a definition of the problem? They do not want to know what talks are taking place, but what will improve matters. He told us about the sanctions and claimed that they were clear, unambiguous and unanimous, but he must tell us what they have achieved in changing Mugabe's direction.

The position is constantly deteriorating, with more torture and abuses of human rights, yet nothing is done. While torture and other flagrant abuses of human rights continue, where is the international coalition about which the Foreign Secretary told us?

The United States is apparently exploring further measures to ratchet up pressure on Mugabe's regime; what is the right hon. Gentleman doing to increase the pressure? Is not he ashamed that John Prendergast's report went on to state: Britain and the EU talk tough and do nothing"? Is not John Prendergast right? When will the Foreign Secretary stop talking and start doing?

Mr. Straw

I appreciate the difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman experiences in opposition, but his approach does not recommend itself and I suggest that he move away from it. I have listened carefully to him in the past year, and he has made the same point in the same tone. He has never suggested action different from that taken by the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman went on about the United States. The sanctions that I was able to ensure that the European Union imposed in February are stronger and more extensive than those applied by the United States. For example, the United States has imposed no financial assets freeze. We welcome the fact that it is now considering that. Meanwhile, as I announced to the House, the EU Foreign Affairs Council will review sanctions towards the end of July.

Forward to