HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc291-303 3.31 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that took place in Coolum, in Queensland, Australia, from 1 to 4 March. I pay warm tribute to Prime Minister John Howard and the Australian Government for the excellent arrangements for the meeting, and to John Howard personally for his patient and skilful chairmanship.

I also want to record how much the presence of Her Majesty the Queen meant to all the Heads of Government in this, her jubilee year. It provided an opportunity for us all to reflect on her remarkable contribution to the Commonwealth over the past 50 years. I shall be pleased to join Her Majesty for the observance service to celebrate Commonwealth day on Monday 11 March.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting was due to take place last autumn. It was postponed because of the atrocious terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September. It was therefore entirely fitting that one of the major items of business at this week's meeting was the adoption of a Commonwealth plan of action on terrorism. That focuses on how to help member states, particularly smaller states, to fulfil their international obligations in fighting terrorism, including those provided for by United Nations Security Council resolution 1373.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government also adopted the report of the high-level review group established at the previous Heads of Government meeting in Durban in 1999. That report broadens the remit of the Commonwealth's ministerial-level watchdog, the Commonwealth ministerial action group, beyond the overthrow of democratically elected governments so that it will in future be able to examine crises other than those provoked by a coup d'état. It strengthens the good offices role of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and streamlines the secretariat's structure.

The Heads of Government also established a high-level expert group to report on globalisation to the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria. The high-level group report and the plan on terrorism are covered in the Coolum declaration, which was agreed by Heads of Government at the conference. I have arranged for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House.

Those useful developments strengthen the Common-wealth as an organisation committed to promoting democracy and good governance, economic development, and tolerance and racial harmony among its members. It is all the more deplorable therefore that one of those members, Zimbabwe, should have a President and a Government who are so clearly violating those core Commonwealth values.

The current crisis in Zimbabwe was extensively discussed. The violence and intimidation unleashed by President Mugabe in his desperation to prevent an Opposition victory in next weekend's presidential elections is totally unacceptable. So is the way in which he made it impossible for European Union observers to monitor next weekend's elections, obliging them to withdraw from Zimbabwe so that they could not document the abuses of the election campaign. There is no doubt about those abuses: those who are witnessing the campaign and who are still in Zimbabwe, detail horrific acts of violence and intimidation.

President Mugabe pretends that the current crisis has been prompted by the issue of land reform rather than by his determination to stay in power no matter what the verdict of the electorate. That is nothing more than a pretext. Successive British Governments have made clear their commitment to supporting land reform in Zimbabwe. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary repeated that commitment at the Abuja meeting in Nigeria last September. Indeed, since independence Britain has provided over £40 million specifically for land reform, and over £0.5 billion in development assistance.

However, our efforts, and those of the wider international community—including the United Nations Development Programme—have been thwarted by the political intransigence, and indeed corruption, of President Mugabe and his Government. Make no mistake, Mr. Speaker: if President Mugabe had wanted an orderly and just land reform programme at any stage in the past few years, we would have been keen to work with him. He did not. Instead he has used the land reform issue as an excuse for undermining Zimbabwean democracy; and more than this, the actions have now provoked a grave economic crisis in a country that has the potential to be rich and successful. This is a tragedy for all Zimbabwe's people. The victims of Mr. Mugabe are not primarily white; they are the ordinary black citizens fed up with years of decline and corruption.

President Mugabe's behaviour was denounced by a very large number of Commonwealth countries at Coolum. Again we should make it clear that this included outspoken and courageous condemnation by African leaders who understand very well that the damage that President Mugabe is doing harms not only Zimbabwe but Africa as a whole. Despite President Mugabe's mob propaganda, this is not an issue that divides the Commonwealth on racial lines—not one that divides Africa from the other Commonwealth members.

Although there was a strong current of criticism running at Coolum, decisions need to be unanimous at the Heads of Government meeting, and in a body representing more than 50 separate nations there was no realistic prospect of a consensus for suspending Zimbabwe from Commonwealth membership in advance of the elections this coming weekend. But we did agree a statement on Zimbabwe that expressed deep concern about the violence surrounding the current election campaign, and called for free and fair elections. That statement makes provision for Zimbabwe's suspension, if the report of the Commonwealth observers currently in Zimbabwe is adverse.

If the observers' report does indeed find widespread evidence of intimidation and violence, the fudging will have to stop. The credibility of the Commonwealth itself is at stake. The procedures laid down in the Harare Commonwealth declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth action programme are clear, and action must follow, up to and including suspension. Let me add that it is a remarkable tribute to the strength of democracy in Zimbabwe that the Opposition retain even a chance of winning those elections at all. Again, let us be clear: if they do win, President Mugabe must accept the result and hand over power.

The Coolum meeting provided an opportunity for me to meet a number of African leaders to discuss the New Partnership for African Development. We need to work with Africa, through the G8 and through a wide range of international organisations, to grasp this opportunity for a new start, and new hope for Africa. On aid, trade and conflict I believe that we have a real chance for progress, with commitment and leadership on both sides. We will continue to make that a major priority of British policy.

Coolum also allowed me to meet the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean countries. We discussed ways of developing the United Kingdom's relations with them, and ways of helping them to confront the challenges that they face, particularly in countering drugs and terrorism, and in the economic and trade fields. There will be a further opportunity to develop that dialogue at the meeting of the UK/Caribbean Forum in Georgetown, Guyana, next month.

Finally, I co-hosted with John Howard the Commonwealth sports lunch, where we looked forward to the Commonwealth games in Manchester this summer and then in Melbourne in 2006.

I wish to conclude with thanks to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary for the work that he did in preparing for the Coolum meeting, particularly in the Commonwealth ministerial action group. It was a great sadness that, for personal reasons, he was unable to attend the meeting itself, but I wish also to record my thanks to my noble Friend Baroness Amos for the valuable role that she played at Coolum.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

May I join the Prime Minister at the outset in recording my pleasure at the presence of Her Majesty at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting during her jubilee year? As the Prime Minister so rightly said, the leadership and service that she has given to the Commonwealth over the last 50 years is admired and respected by very many people around the globe, and I, like him, look forward to the observance service on 11 March. I also welcome the adoption of the action plan on terrorism, and that part of the Coolum communiqué reaffirms the principles of working to reduce poverty through the Commonwealth institutions.

However, no hon. Member can be satisfied with the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting regarding Zimbabwe. What the Prime Minister said in condemning Mr. Mugabe is quite right, and I associate myself with all those statements criticising him and accusing him of all the things that he has done. This is not about black versus white in Zimbabwe, and it never has been; it is about everyone in Zimbabwe suffering under a tyrant who has thrown out the rule of law and democracy. However, the suggestion that the Commonwealth might in due course merely voice "collective disapproval" at the actions of the Zimbabwe Government is only the latest in a litany of laughable and inadequate responses that have too often let Mr. Mugabe off the hook.

Last October, the Prime Minister publicly told his party that there must be "no tolerance" of the activities of Mr. Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe". Those were rightly tough words, yet, sadly, the Government have in their actions too often appeared to tolerate his activities. The Abuja agreement did nothing to stop the violence and intimidation practised by Mr. Mugabe's regime, yet it was greeted by the Foreign Secretary as "a positive step forward" and, despite evidence that Mr. Mugabe was ignoring it throughout, no action was taken.

We were not alone in voicing our concerns. In September last year, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai—a very brave man—called for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth if Mugabe breached the law on land reform. The British Government never publicly set any such benchmark. In fact, it was a further three months before the Commonwealth declared that the situation in Zimbabwe was a "serious and persistent violation" of its fundamental principles.

Why did it then take the Foreign Secretary and the Government another three weeks after that long delay finally to recommend that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth? In the four months taken to get to that point, Mr. Mugabe's regime of terror continued unabated and very well reported, yet my concern was that the Government dithered: they seemed to hide behind the claim to be working within the European Union, yet Europe, too, was dragging its feet.

It was not until 28 January—only five weeks ago—that the Foreign Secretary was able to say that the EU's position on sanctions was "clear, unambiguous and unanimous". Even then, it took another three weeks and the expulsion of the head of the EU observer mission for sanctions to be imposed. People such as Mr. Mugabe clearly feed off that kind of indecisiveness. It is no wonder that—despite the Prime Minister's best efforts, which we support, in Brisbane—he could not persuade his Commonwealth colleagues to take action against Zimbabwe. As far as they were concerned, the British Government only decided to support suspension just under two months ago.

It could all have been very different. If there had been real leadership throughout, from whatever source, the Commonwealth would have sent a much stronger message, and one that we would have done well to learn.

The lesson is that we must not repeat that failure, and the Prime Minister therefore needs to answer some important, key questions about the future action that the Commonwealth may or may not take.

First, will the Prime Minister guarantee Morgan Tsvangirai the full support of the British Government—whether he wins or loses—not just now, but in the difficult months ahead? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House that the transparency of Sunday's election will be judged on the criteria laid down by the Southern African Development Community in March last year? Thirdly, does he agree that, if those forces opposed to democracy continue their terrible destruction of Zimbabwe, an international coalition composed of the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and the Commonwealth should take all necessary steps to secure a safe future for Zimbabwe?

The Commonwealth's statements on Zimbabwe and Mugabe this past weekend have been weak and ineffectual, and we must ensure that a much stronger and clearer message goes out to Zimbabwe. I served in Zimbabwe when we brought about the transition to the current Government back in 1979–80—so I need no sedentary lectures from Labour Members, who have done nothing but mouth off—and the high hopes of those days are now being destroyed. The Government's policy and those of the Commonwealth now read like a text book on how not to deal with a tyrant. The Government talk a lot about leading in Europe and leading in the Commonwealth. They have not yet done so—perhaps now is the time for them to pull this situation back before it is too late.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has the ability to exploit any situation to make absurd points. The idea that the problem in Zimbabwe is a result either of the Government's failure to condemn Mr. Mugabe, whom we have condemned right from the very beginning, or, even more absurdly, of the European Union, which I fear marks a return to the Conservative party's obsession with the European Union, is ridiculous. The truth is that we have made it clear throughout that we wholly condemn Mr. Mugabe. However, decisions have to be unanimous in order to get action through the Commonwealth at the Heads of Government meeting. In other words, every country has to agree. There was never a realistic prospect of getting some of them to agree to sanctions now. The Government's position, however, has been utterly clear throughout.

In respect of the three points the right hon. Gentleman demands we answer, we have already done so many, many times. Yes, of course it is the case that if the observers' report indicates that the election has been rife with violence and intimidation—as I am sure it will, given the emerging evidence—suspension should follow under the criteria agreed by the Commonwealth. There is no question in those circumstances of collective disapproval alone being satisfactory. However, that is again something that Britain alone cannot decide. With the greatest of respect, when we analyse what the right hon. Gentleman asks us to do, we have already done it. The idea that, by some miraculous power, he would have managed to persuade all the Heads of the Commonwealth to go along with something heavier stretches his credibility a little beyond what it will bear.

In respect of the other points that the right hon. Gentleman raises, it is important that we ensure that firm action follows. The one part of the Commonwealth statement that I can say I am happy with is the notion that a mechanism should exist that depends not on all 50 members of the Commonwealth, but on the past, present and future Chairmen of the Commonwealth Heads of Government who will take a decision on the basis of the recommendation of the Secretary-General. That gives us a far more streamlined way in which to reach a quick decision. I very much hope that they come to the right decision. It is at least a small step forward, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge it.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

In thanking the Prime Minister for his statement, hon. Members should acknowledge that it is an unusually strong statement for any Prime Minister who has returned from such an international summit meeting to make to the House of Commons, and deservedly so given the circumstances and the primary topic of international concern and discussion. In recognising that fact, I think the Prime Minister would concur that the one thing the House of Commons, as much as the Government, can do at this juncture is to speak with a united voice on Zimbabwe and the international implications. Given that the Conservative party lacks the self-confidence to believe that it could persuade a dozen and a few more members of the European Union, is it not bizarre that it should think that it could have flown to Australia to dictate the passage of actions to dozens of members of the Commonwealth?

If the bad news from Zimbabwe worsens over the next few days as we witness the conduct of the elections and their outcome, will the Prime Minister confirm that our country will take a lead on a Commonwealth basis to ensure that suspension or expulsion from the Commonwealth, which we would all have preferred to happen at this stage, proceeds as fast as is politically possible? I hope that he can reassure us on that. If the situation continues to deteriorate and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has to deal with the migration of refugees across borders into neighbouring countries, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will give its full support to whatever endeavours may have to be anticipated and dealt with, although of course we hope that they will not arise?

Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that in the court of public opinion, where Robert Mugabe is concerned, it is one thing for politicians to disagree, but when any head of state has moved to the extent that broadcasters and journalists, including those from the BBC—some of the most impartial and authoritative journalists in the world—are excluded or thrown out of a country, that in itself is an admission of guilt?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, one of the most eccentric happenings at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting was the sight of the Information Minister of Zimbabwe coming to Australia to talk to the BBC, which had of course been thrown out of Zimbabwe during its coverage of the election.

Of course we will do our very best to secure the right outcome in light of the Commonwealth observers' report. I should just add to what I said a moment ago that all three members of the group that will take the decision, on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, have made it clear that if the observers do detail violence and intimidation, they will take the appropriate action. Giving that assurance is different from delivering on it, but we will do our best to hold people to that position.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about refugees is true. There are already hundreds of thousands, if not more, Zimbabwean refugees flooding into neighbouring countries. One of the tragedies of what Mugabe has done to Zimbabwe is that the income of its people has literally halved in the past few years, but it is a potentially wealthy country. It could have been a leader in southern Africa, instead of which Mugabe has turned it into a country where industry feels uncomfortable, where people are in a state of oppression and where the economy is unable to function properly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of what the Prime Minister is reported to have said about Iraq to the Australian media, and following his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) at Question Time, could he, at his convenience, glance at the report of this morning's Westminster Hall debate on military action against Iraq and reflect on whether he ought not to come and make a very full speech—as Prime Ministers used to do—on the Iraq situation before it is contemplated committing British troops? Is it not right that in a situation where there is, so to speak, an optional war, the House of Commons should have a formal endorsement by vote?

The Prime Minister

As I pointed out at Prime Minister's Question Time, we have not agreed any action in respect of Iraq at the moment, so it is important that before anyone takes a position condemning it or supporting it, we see what the Government propose we should do. On the point about coming to the House, most people would have to acknowledge that after 11 September, not only did I make several statements to the House, but so did other Ministers, and we have had no fewer than five different debates on the subject, so I really do not think that it can be said that we have been committing British forces without proper consultation with the House. When decisions do have to be taken on Iraq, of course we will come and consult the House properly as we should.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will the Prime Minister take the earliest possible opportunity to impress on the Commonwealth Heads of Government that the partial attitude towards Mugabe shown by far too many of them undermines the respect and support, in this country and elsewhere, for the Commonwealth as an institution?

The Prime Minister

It is correct that I found some of the contributions at the meeting hard to understand in light of what is happening. I believe that, especially when the whole world is trying to put together a partnership for Africa based on us providing more aid, better access to our markets and help with good governance, it is all the more right and appropriate that strong and good governance in Africa is upheld.

The one qualification that I would make to that, however, is that there were reports that Africa en bloc was against strong action on Zimbabwe; that is not correct, and it is not fair to African countries. Many African leaders, including some from that region, spoke very strongly against what Mr. Mugabe is doing. There are those who feel that we should wait until the election until we make the decision to suspend. I can understand that, even though I do not agree with it. I think that it means that if the Commonwealth observers' report is adverse, there is an obligation on the Commonwealth to retain its credibility by acting against Mugabe.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us on the Labour Benches— I emphasise, the Labour Benches—who urged the strongest economic sanctions against the illegal regime in what was then Rhodesia need no lectures from anybody, certainly not Mugabe and his thugs, about racism? I speak as one who is perhaps not considered to be the biggest admirer of the EU, but is it not the case that if any EU member country had come anywhere near what Mugabe has done, that country would have been suspended very quickly? Perhaps the Commonwealth should learn from that.

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely. In those circumstances, the EU would of course suspend a country. That is why it is all the more important that we ensure that the Commonwealth, if it is to retain its credibility, acts. However, to answer those shouting out from the Opposition Benches, that has to be done at 50 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The advantage of the mechanism that we have agreed is that because three countries will take the decision, we have a better chance of getting the right result.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

It is hard to disagree with a single word that the Prime Minister has said about Zimbabwe. He spoke out robustly. However, the train of events in Zimbabwe is not new: it is not a feature of the past few months, but has been going on for two years, since Mugabe lost his referendum in February 2000. Yes, it has become worse over that time, but there has been a consistent pattern of intimidation, brutality and subversion of the rule of law. In that time, some of us have called for targeted action against individuals—members of the gang of hoodlums who support Mugabe in office and in power and Mugabe himself—and for targeted sanctions, but we have been pushed away by the Government, the current Foreign Secretary and his predecessor. The only Minister who consistently spoke up robustly along those lines is the current Minister for Europe, who, as soon he did so, was slapped down and moved out of his job. Does the Prime Minister agree that the lesson of all that is that when a dictator starts to behave in a tyrannical manner, robust action taken early on makes the difference? We should by now have learned that appeasing tyrants does not work.

The Prime Minister

I simply disagree totally. The Government made their position on Mugabe plain right from the outset. Whether we act in the EU or in the Commonwealth, we have to get other countries to join us. The right hon. Gentleman knows that when the issue was first raised a couple of years ago, close consultations took place with the opposition movement in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change, about the right response. The idea that we have not sought firm action against Mugabe is absurd, but we have to get that action agreed at European level and at Commonwealth level, and that is best done by working with other countries.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

You dithered!

The Prime Minister

In response to the shadow Foreign Secretary, may I say that the notion that the Conservative party, with its attitude towards Europe and the Commonwealth, could have got further is more than a little absurd?

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's report that there was a discussion about Angola. Given the recent events affecting UNITA, can he assure us that that discussion was positive and that Angola's prospects are better than they have been in recent years?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is true—there is a greater prospect of stability in Angola. That emphasises, as my right hon. Friend correctly identifies, the importance of ensuring that we establish proper systems of conflict resolution in Africa. The single biggest problem for countries in many parts of Africa is conflicts lasting for years that have made it absolutely impossible for those countries to develop properly. That is what we want to achieve as part of the deal for Africa at the G8 summit. Whether in Congo, Angola, Sudan or Somalia, there is a real prospect of getting the right conflict resolution systems in place so that stability can be restored. I believe that the situation in Angola today is more hopeful than it has been for some time.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon, particularly the large section of it that referred to Zimbabwe. Does he agree that poverty in many central African countries is exacerbated by the chaos in Zimbabwe? Unfortunately, the Commonwealth monitors are not generating confidence among the opponents of Mr. Mugabe, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change. I receive e-mails by the day from Zimbabwe highlighting the monitors' inadequacy.

I know that the Prime Minister must be careful in saying so, but does he agree that the Commonwealth has not enhanced its credibility by not taking a decision at least to suspend Zimbabwe? Is he not worried that after the election on Sunday, the votes will be counted by those who are in hock to Mr. Mugabe?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the way in which the poll will be conducted. I should have preferred the Commonwealth to go further. The real test of its credibility will come after the weekend's election. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that as a result of the instability in Zimbabwe, problems are being exported to other African countries in the region. That is, in my view, why it is all the more important that they speak out and speak up.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

I fully endorse everything that the Prime Minister has said this afternoon with regard to Zimbabwe and President Mugabe. Did the Commonwealth Heads of Government look at the situation in Pakistan, whose membership of the Commonwealth is suspended, giving due regard to what President Musharraf has boldly and courageously done about terrorism over the past few months and recognising that he is working towards achieving democracy later this year? Should not the Commonwealth be addressing what it can do to help Pakistan return to democracy and return to the Commonwealth, I hope later this year?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I hope very much that Pakistan keeps to the road map to democracy that was set out by President Musharraf last year. That is important, and I pay tribute to his leadership of his country over the past few months; the strong position that he has taken in respect of international terrorism; and his recent speech that takes on the extremists who would abuse the religion of Islam for the purposes of political extremism. I know that the Commonwealth will want to work with Pakistan to make sure that that road map to democracy is fulfilled and that Pakistan can come back as a full member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Prime Minister's persuasive powers have obviously not been enjoying success with the Commonwealth or, for that matter, with President Bush on steel. If President Mugabe rigs the elections or refuses to accept the result and executive action follows, as the Prime Minister indicates, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that that action will be sustained by a consensus of Commonwealth heads of state?

European Union sanctions have attempted to target leading figures in ZANU-PF so that they do not impact on ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Does the Prime Minister envisage any way of toughening up European Union action that will not impact on the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, whose conditions are fairly desperate already?

The Prime Minister

We will certainly look at what further European action can follow, although, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it is important that that does not impact on the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. However, the benefit of the mechanism that we have outlined is that it restricts the decision making to the three countries, not the 50. If they make that recommendation, we will be able to sustain it. As I said earlier, that is the one point of hope to come out the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the very difficult situation in Zimbabwe, the Government have responded largely along lines approved of by the Movement for Democratic Change? If the worst comes to the worst after this weekend, what, besides any action taken by the Commonwealth, may be done at a United Nations level to ensure that there is true democracy in Zimbabwe and that we set in train efforts to restore prosperity there?

The Prime Minister

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. He is right. We have tried to maintain close contact with the Movement for Democratic Change in terms of what it is sensible for Britain to pursue. There are points in time—this is why I think that some of the remarks made by the Opposition are silly—at which Britain's role in Zimbabwe, if it is not handled with care, can help Mugabe rather than hinder him. We have been sensitive to that throughout. In respect of my hon. Friend's point about the United Nations, we would pursue that at every level and in every forum, but we will have to wait to determine the precise nature of that.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I, too, welcome the Prime Minister's conversion to the Opposition's view about Zimbabwe. His memory is not entirely accurate. Morgan Tsvangirai was calling for targeted sanctions long before a response came from the Government. Like the rest of us, the Prime Minister knows that it is not just Zimbabwe that is suffering from what is going on in that country; the surrounding countries are suffering too. If some miracle happens and Mugabe loses the election—as we all know he should if the election were free and fair—will the Prime Minister undertake to talk to all his colleagues in the Commonwealth and in the EU and put together a rapid package of aid so that we can get Zimbabwe back on its feet very quickly?

The Prime Minister

Of course we will look at what we can do to assist Zimbabwe, at European level and in respect of the Heads of Government as well. With regard to the hon. Lady's earlier remarks, it is a feature of Opposition parties destined to remain Opposition parties for a long time that they seek to make political capital out of anything.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to take action where we can against those friends of Mr. Mugabe who make violence and repression possible, not least arms dealers based here in the UK? Those include Mr. Mugabe's main supplier, Mr. John Bredenkamp, whose name I have brought to the attention of the House several times. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has been pursuing investigations into that individual. Over several months, I am sorry to say, my questions to the Foreign Office in that respect have simply hit a brick wall. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry work closely with the Department for International Development to do their utmost to close down the activities of those UK-based arms dealers?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will have heard what my hon. Friend said and will be in touch with him about that. My understanding is that the European Union has made it clear that the export of arms to Zimbabwe is unacceptable.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Would not our country have more credibility countering the propaganda of the Zimbabwe Government Information Minister, Mr. Jonathan Moyo, if our Government Information and Communications Service and its officers and £150 million budget did not answer to the Prime Minister's political appointee, Mr. Alastair Campbell?

The Prime Minister

It is extraordinary that on a serious subject for millions of people in Zimbabwe, and when it is obvious, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats said a moment or two ago, that the best message to send out from the House is a united one, some parts of the Conservative party have done nothing today but try to make political capital out of the situation in Zimbabwe and suggest that there is some magic resolution of it that the Government could have secured. That is nonsense. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a disgrace. The whole House should be united in condemning it, and points such as those made by the hon. Gentleman only give succour to those who support the Mugabe regime

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

Does the Prime Minister accept that many of us strongly support his comment in his statement that the fudging must stop? The indecision of the Commonwealth conference has left a dreadful stain on the Commonwealth which will last for a long time to come. On the assumption that the election on Sunday will almost certainly be violently rigged by Mugabe, will the Prime Minister do everything in his power to ensure that smart sanctions are introduced as quickly as possible by as many countries that are our allies as possible?

The Prime Minister

We will, of course, do everything we possibly can. On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the test for the Commonwealth will come once the election takes place. I should have preferred action to be taken before then, but that is the chance for the Commonwealth to show that the principles that it agreed—ironically, in Zimbabwe, at Harare—10 or so years ago will be maintained in this situation. The United States has already indicated the action that it will take, as has the European Union. We will fight for action at every international level.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

The Prime Minister knows better than any of us how important international unity has been following the national unity in this House in the international fight against terrorism, whether through the UN, the Commonwealth or the EU. As the Prime Minister has recognised through his international travel that terrorism is terrorism wherever it comes from and wherever it takes place, whether the Twin Towers, Canary Wharf, the Baltic Exchange or Enniskillen, could he foresee a time when Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive and not convicted, would receive a national and international amnesty similar to the amnesty that he and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are about to announce in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

No, Mr. Speaker. I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings, but the situation in Northern Ireland is different because a peace process is under way there. Whatever the difficulties, the hon. Gentleman would have to accept that the Belfast agreement has considerably improved the situation in Northern Ireland, whether with regard to jobs, investment or security, and it is important that we sustain that agreement. However, as I say. I understand why the hon. Gentleman expresses the view s that he does.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

If, as is widely expected, the outcome of this week's election in Zimbabwe is to unleash yet further violence against Mr. Mugabe's enemies, can the Prime Minister assure the House that every possible contingency plan has been taken to protect the lives of the 25,000 UK passport holders who at present reside there?

The Prime Minister

We shall obviously do everything that we possibly can. Of course, we have given considerable thought to what we could do to protect the people there, but I very much hope that it will not come to that.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)

The Prime Minister was right to point out in his statement that, remarkably, it is still just possible that Mugabe could be toppled from power this weekend, such is the scale of his unpopularity there, as shown by what polling evidence there is. If that happens, unlikely as it may be, can the Prime Minister confirm that plans are in place to provide immediate assistance next week to help to stabilise the new President and the country and to help the reconstruction process get under way?

The Prime Minister

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if the Opposition were to win and the democratic will of the people were to prevail, we would do everything that we could to ensure that Zimbabwe was given the fresh start that it needs.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

The Prime Minister has said that his preference would be for action before the election on Sunday, not after. There is one thing that he could do that would send a clear signal now. Will he make it clear today that if Mugabe remains in office after Sunday, Zimbabwe will not be welcome at the Commonwealth games in Manchester this summer?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly consult on that in the light of what happens at the weekend.

Mr. Speaker

The next business was to be a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. However, the statement reached the Opposition only 10 minutes ago, so in order to allow the Opposition time to study the statement I shall take the ten-minute Bill first.