HC Deb 21 March 2002 vol 382 cc446-56 1.10 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, I should like to make a statement on Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth.

As the House will be aware, a Commonwealth troika consisting of Presidents Mbeki of South Africa and Obasanjo of Nigeria and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia was authorised by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to review the outcome of the Zimbabwe elections in the light of the Commonwealth observers' report, and to decide on any action.

The troika met in London on Tuesday. It had before it the final report of the Commonwealth observers group. That confirmed the findings of the preliminary report that I put before the House in my statement last Thursday. The group concluded that the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors". The troika accepted the conclusions in full and decided as a result to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year with immediate effect. The issue will be revisited in twelve months' time having regard to progress in Zimbabwe, based on the Commonwealth Harare principles and reports from the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our appreciation to Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo and Prime Minister Howard and in expressing our full support for their conclusions.

Three months ago, on 20 December, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, of which I was a member, concluded that Zimbabwe was in "serious and persistent violation" of the Harare principles. It was my view at that stage that Zimbabwe should then and there be suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth: I made that case again at CMAG at the end of January, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in early March. As the situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated day by day since December, it follows that we believe that suspension now is fully justified.

The Commonwealth depends above all on its moral authority and the force of the principles that it codified in Harare in 1991. That is why the decision was so important for the Commonwealth as a whole, as well as—of course—for Zimbabwe. That moral authority is what gives this decision its force. I am in no doubt, from the way in which the Government of Zimbabwe sought actively to divide the Commonwealth and to prevent it from taking decisions about suspension, that they were and are profoundly concerned about the international isolation that suspension signals.

Tuesday's decision was significant in many respects and above all for the fact that leaders of two key African nations have taken a clear and definitive stand in defence of the Commonwealth's fundamental principles. They have also underlined Africa's commitment to the universal and indivisible principles of democracy and human rights.

Suspension is one of the strongest measures that the Commonwealth can impose. In the past, countries have been suspended only after the violent overthrow of their elected Government. Zimbabwe's suspension is therefore a new departure. Moreover, the Commonwealth's decision is in addition to the targeted sanctions that the European Union, the United States and now Switzerland have imposed against the leaders of ZANU-PF. European Union Heads of Government also decided, at the European Council in Barcelona last weekend, to ask Foreign Ministers to consider options for further measures.

What has happened in Zimbabwe is a tragedy, imposed on that once prosperous land by Robert Mugabe. Our commitment and that of the Commonwealth to the people of Zimbabwe remains as strong as ever. We have made it clear since 1997 that the case for land reform in Zimbabwe is very strong and that we were willing to provide considerable financial support for a land reform process that would be transparent and lawful and that would give priority to the needs of Zimbabweans in overcrowded communal lands. That position was supported by the international community as a whole, but rejected by the Mugabe regime.

At Abuja in early September last year we agreed a pathway for Zimbabwe that would have allowed for a resumption of international aid, including from the UK, for a programme of sustainable land reform implemented in accordance with the rule of law.

Respect for the rule of law and a return to democratic principles and sensible economic policies are the only way back for Zimbabwe. We remain ready to do all that we can to achieve that. We will continue our programme of assistance for humanitarian and HIV/AIDS projects.

In the short term, the prospects in Zimbabwe look bleak, which is underlined by the murders since the election of Movement for Democratic Change activists and a commercial farmer and the fact that the Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has formally been charged with treason. Today, it is all the more urgent that the Government of Zimbabwe commit themselves to healing the divisions in the country and taking the path of genuine reform and national reconciliation, as the leaders of the Commonwealth have called for. In that context, we shall do everything that we can to support Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo and other African partners in their efforts to bring stability back to Zimbabwe.

That is what the people of Zimbabwe desperately need and today I believe that the whole of the democratic world supports them in that goal.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement on Zimbabwe and for, as usual, doing me the courtesy of giving me advance sight of it.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that last Thursday, on a similar occasion when he made a statement to the House, he told us: I thought that I had made it palpably obvious that we do not recognise the result or its legitimacy."—[Official Report, 14 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 1035.] Would he tell the House what action the Government have taken in respect of diplomatic relations and other protocols with Zimbabwe as a result of that non-recognition of the result and its legitimacy? That is an important question in light of the recent Commonwealth troika decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth.

I also pay tribute to the outstanding leadership of Prime Minister John Howard of Australia. I suspect that many people feared that the Commonwealth would not be able to be decisive. Prime Minister Howard has succeeded where many thought that he would fail. The Opposition warmly congratulate him and his two colleagues on the troika.

The Commonwealth has taken action. The House wants to know what action the Government will now take. Once again there is little sign of any new or real initiative in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. May I press him? What discussions has he had in the past two days with President Mbeki of South Africa? I ask that question as South Africa has just announced that it recognises Robert Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe. That mixed signal is damaging not only to the Commonwealth and its democratic principles, but to the people of Zimbabwe, who are looking to the international community for assistance. How can it be that the troika accepted the Commonwealth observers' report but at the same time South Africa accepted its own observer report that the election process was acceptable?

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the outlook seems bleak. I am not as sure as he is that what has been done has been persuasive for Mr. Mugabe. Has the Foreign Secretary called in the Zimbabwe high commissioner about the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai was charged with treason yesterday? Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity today to make it clear that any action taken against Morgan Tsvangirai will be unacceptable and an affront to democracy?

We have been calling for some time for an international coalition to confront Robert Mugabe. Is it not time to act on that? The Commonwealth and members of the South African Development Community and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, as well as the United States and the European Union, must all now put down a marker. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a clear marker is available: that any action against Morgan Tsvangirai that goes beyond the bounds of acceptable democratic behaviour will be seen as a hostile action against all those who believe in democracy and action will be taken accordingly?

Will the Foreign Secretary now start working towards bringing together that international coalition to work with the countries of southern Africa to bring about a rerun of this month's presidential election, but this time on an independently monitored and clearly free and fair basis and within months rather than years? Will he also agree that if the democratic void in Zimbabwe is not overcome, it will destroy all prospects of success for the region's most promising recent initiative, NEPAD? As one of Zimbabwe's foremost economists, John Robertson, has concluded:

The far-reaching vision of NEPAD would not be enough to overcome the fears of political interference among investors. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear today that the threat that Zimbabwe poses to NEPAD is a threat not only to that country, but to the well-being of the whole continent? What pressure will he bring to bear on President Gaddafi of Libya, who is apparently currently bankrolling Robert Mugabe? Libya needs its trade links with the European Union, and now is a good opportunity for the EU to act. On this occasion, will the Foreign Secretary take the lead on that issue?

I also seek clarification of the Government's stance on Zimbabwe's participation at the Commonwealth games. The Foreign Office has briefed the press that that is a matter for the Commonwealth Games Federation. The Foreign Secretary cannot duck this one; the United Kingdom has to make it clear that Zimbabwe is not welcome at the games. To allow its attendance would make a mockery of the decision to suspend to Zimbabwe from the Councils of the Commonwealth, and he must make his position clear today.

I have asked many questions, and the House expects answers to them, but I remind the House that, for several years now, we have been calling on the Government to act. They failed to act over the illegal farm occupations; they failed to act over the dubious elections in 2000; they failed to act after Abuja, despite the Foreign Secretary's protestations at that time; and Robert Mugabe had the last laugh at Abuja. All that time we called for the assets of Mugabe and his henchmen to be frozen; we called for travel bans; we called for suspension from the Commonwealth; and the Government told us that we were irresponsible.

We were told that all was well because the Government had an ethical foreign policy. Well, let me tell the House that history will record that this Government got it wrong, and it is about time that they admitted it. They now have time, belatedly, to get it right by following the suggestions that I have outlined. I repeat the call that I made in the House last Thursday: the time has come for the Government to stop talking and to start doing.

Mr. Straw

Let me run through the right hon. Gentleman's specific questions. First, he asked whether we recognise the legitimacy of the result—we do not—and what action we would take. Well, the action that we have taken is to call for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth and to achieve that. He also asked what other action the Government will take now. I shall underline the point that I made to him last week: this is not an issue on which there is serious division between either side of the House. That became evident during the course of those exchanges given the very constructive contributions made by virtually all the Conservative Back Benchers who spoke, some of whom were more willing than others to recognise that the previous Conservative Government's record was not one that was covered in glory. For example, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) spoke, rather eloquently, about the preceding Government's failure to take any effective action in the 1980s.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what action will be taken. We have taken the action that it has been necessary to take because of the illegitimacy of the Mugabe regime. That includes the sanctions to which I was able to get the EU to agree on 18 February.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about an international coalition. I have to say that that is exactly what we have been seeking to put together and have, indeed, put together. Again, I say gently to him that it would have been much more difficult for him to have achieved that action in the Commonwealth and almost impossible for him to have achieved that result in the EU, given the other approach that he and his Front-Bench colleagues take to international relations.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me about diplomatic and other action, and he came close to asking whether we should break off diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe. Let me make the position clear. In 1979, the Government whom he supported decided—Lord Carrington announced this at the time in the other place and the announcement was repeated here—that in future Her Majesty's Government would recognise states, not particular Governments. We have followed that policy since then; it seemed sensible at the time, and it still is.

We have diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe because of our concerns about the citizens of Zimbabwe and those of other countries and—I say this very specifically—well over 40,000 British citizens and dependants. I have received no representations whatever from the opposition, representatives of British citizens or from anybody else who cares about the future of Zimbabwe that we should either break off or reduce diplomatic relations. I judge that it would not be helpful to the people whom we care about or to democracy, were we to do so. If I receive representations from those quarters, of course I shall consider them and make their position known to the House.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the Commonwealth games. The decision formally is for the Commonwealth Games Federation. That is my view and the Government's view. Throughout we have sought to impose sanctions with adverse consequences on the people responsible for bringing Zimbabwe to this sorry pass. I have received no representations which suggest that the young people who are involved in sport in Zimbabwe are responsible for stuffing ballot boxes and murdering opposition opponents. If I receive such representations, of course we shall take full notice of them. Meanwhile, it is entirely right that the Commonwealth Games Federation should follow the examples of countries that have been suspended from the Commonwealth, previously or currently, namely Pakistan and Fiji. It should draw a clear distinction between the sanctions that we are taking against the undemocratic and, in the case of Zimbabwe, violent forces and target those people and their actions, while making it crystal clear that we are on the side of people of democracy who want to celebrate the best in their country, which in this case includes sport.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Does the Foreign Secretary understand that welcome though the suspension is, for many of us it is overshadowed by an acute sense of disappointment that it became necessary and that Robert Mugabe would not respond to the moral authority of the Commonwealth and draw back from the actions that have ultimately precipitated the suspension? For many of us, welcome for the suspension is overshadowed by a profound anxiety for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, both urban and rural, who now face the prospect of six years of ignominy and isolation, of corrupt military adventurism in the Congo, of economic mismanagement and even of food and energy shortages.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the decision taken by the troika establishes a new precedent for the Commonwealth and that it would be right now to consider the extent to which mechanisms of the Commonwealth should be adjusted so as to allow for suspension more easily if such circumstances were to arise in future? Some have considered that the proposals made by the high level review group in this regard were rather lacklustre. Is it not time for much more responsive mechanisms to be established?

On the Commonwealth games, in which I should declare an historical interest if nothing else, may I remind the Foreign Secretary that on two occasions during the Conservative Government there was a mixture between sport and politics? The consequence for the 1986 Commonwealth games was a substantial boycott and the success of the games hung in the balance. That was because a view was taken of the political attitudes of the then Government. An even more salutary example was the effort of Mrs. Thatcher to persuade British competitors not to compete in the Moscow Olympic games. It is fair to say that her efforts received rather mixed results.

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

Seb Coe won his gold.

Mr. Straw

As my hon. Friend says, Seb Coe won a gold, so those efforts did not permeate even the Conservative party, still less the country.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. I share his view that the decision of the Commonwealth troika and therefore of the Commonwealth, although welcome in itself, in context casts an acute sense of disappointment at the fact that the sanctions are necessary.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about profound anxiety, and I should have responded to the point made by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) about Morgan Tsvangirai. We have not had to call in the high commissioner from Zimbabwe to explain what we think about the arrest and subsequent charging of Morgan Tsvangirai with treason. One deals with opponents in a democracy by argument, not by arrest and pursuit of them on trumped-up charges. If those charges are pursued by Robert Mugabe, the international consequences for his Government in terms of isolation and, I suspect, greater sanctions, will be considerable. We remain very concerned about the position of Morgan Tsvangirai and other members of the opposition, but above all about those who are suffering daily the most acute violence in that country.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked whether I agree that there should be a new precedent to widen the circumstances in which the Commonwealth could take such action. Personally, I think that that should happen. To those who think that Zimbabwe was not bothered about the result, I say that for a very long time, Dr. Stan Mudenge, the Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe, used to chair the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group That is one reason why no action could be taken against Zimbabwe for such a long time, and would not have been taken even if the skills of the right hon. Member for Devizes had been brought into play.

Once Dr. Mudenge had vacated the chair, he argued for years, like the good barrack-room lawyer that he is, that CMAG and the Commonwealth had no right to suspend any country from the Councils of the Commonwealth except where a democratic regime had been overthrown in a violent coup d'etat. We managed to overcome that, but it is one reason why he refused the use of CMAG to sort out a land deal, and why President Obasanjo had to create an equivalent of CMAG, which met in Abuja. It is also why the decision is in itself historic. We must ensure that better structures are put in place so that everyone who signed up to the ironically named Harare principles understands that they are not just words, but require commitment by Governments and Heads of Governments, and that action will follow if they are broken.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend has taken a consistent, firm and principled attitude throughout and, with the troika, deserves congratulations on a result that helps to salvage and maintain the credibility of the Commonwealth. Will he say a little more about the one-year suspension? It sounds a little difficult because, after all, it would be reviewed in any event, and it is extremely unlikely that there would be a rerun of the election during that period. Indeed, the actions of the Mugabe Government since the election have been very negative.

As the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) mentioned, part of the tragedy is that all the grand declarations of President Mbeki and other leaders on African renaissance and NEPAD are undermined by a picture of ill-governance and maltreatment of the opposition. That means that it will be increasingly difficult for private investors in a highly competitive world to look to Africa and provide the renaissance, through NEPAD, which we support.

Mr. Straw

I thank my right hon. Friend for his initial comments, and I agree that Zimbabwe has already had a terrible effect on not just its own economy but that of all countries in southern Africa, and investor confidence throughout the continent. That is one more reason why I believe that the decision taken on Tuesday by the leaders of two of the most important countries in Africa is so important. It draws a line between those who subscribe to principles of democracy, as the leaders of South Africa and Nigeria of course do, and those who follow a different, violent and undemocratic path. I very much hope that, notwithstanding that, NEPAD and the determination by democratic Africa and the international community to help Africa to rebuild its prosperity will continue. No one should be in any doubt about the damage that President Mugabe has already done and could continue to do.

My right hon. Friend asked about the time period. The Committee stated in paragraph 8 of its conclusions that the suspension will be for one year with immediate effect and that the issue will be revisited in 12 months' time, having regard to progress in Zimbabwe based on the Commonwealth Harare principles and reports from the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I take that to mean that the suspension will continue unless the Harare principles have meanwhile started to be properly observed and there has been a positive report from the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Although I of course welcome the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, that cannot be the end of the matter. Does the Secretary of State accept that we have a special interest as there are 40,000 UK passport holders in Zimbabwe? Does he agree that the time has come for us to explore with other Commonwealth states how we can make Mr. Mugabe and his lieutenants personally accountable for the crimes that are being committed in Zimbabwe either by himself directly or by his lieutenants in his name?

Does the Secretary of State agree that, although the scale is different, Mr. Mugabe's policies of murder, arson, ethnic cleansing, intimidation and vote rigging have a great deal in common with those of Mr. Milosevic? Should we not explore ways in which Mr. Mugabe could be brought before a competent criminal court, so that if he is convicted, he spends his declining years not in Government house, to which he has no entitlement, but in premises that are equally secure but rather less accommodating?

Mr. Straw

I agree with the entirety of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. This is not the end of the matter, and we have a direct interest in what happens in Zimbabwe because at least 40,000 British citizens and their dependants are there. However, I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that even were those 40,000 British citizens not there, our concern about the humanitarian and economic disaster would be exactly the same, because it is a concern without regard to race, colour or citizenship.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that we must be indivisible and universal in applying principles of human rights and international crimes. There is a difference between what Milosevic did and what has happened in Zimbabwe under the ZANU-PF regime, but it is only a matter of degree. One reason why I am profoundly committed to the establishment of the International Criminal Court is that if we are to avoid a repetition of what has happened in Zimbabwe, as well as other disasters, it is hugely important that leaders do not get themselves into a position whereby they believe that they are wholly immune from any possibility of real sanction against their person, as well as their property, for their actions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his approach in leaving open matters such as humanitarian aid in connection with HIV projects and the position that he has taken on sport. There is clearly a distinction between the people of Zimbabwe and the regime that has forced itself upon them. We need to target the regime as strongly as possible while doing whatever we can to assist the people. I commend that general approach to my right hon. Friend in respect of some of his other briefs.

Mr. Straw

I cannot think what my hon. Friend is talking about.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. All along, President Mugabe set a trap into which he wanted the United Kingdom to fall—namely, that we would target black Zimbabweans on a blunderbuss basis so that he would be able credibly to claim that it was a case of white versus black. So far, we have avoided that trap, and we must continue to do so.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Although I warmly welcome the decision of the troika, acting on behalf of the Commonwealth, to suspend ZANU-PF and the Government of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth's counsels for 12 months, does the Secretary of State accept that the recognition of President Mugabe by President Mbeki of South Africa undermines the influence of that decision and sends out quite the wrong messages?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the deep concern of member states throughout the Commonwealth and hon. Members on both sides of House about the safety of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and other opponents of President Mugabe, against whom he is taking brutal action in complete disregard of the views of the world?

Bearing in mind that on 6 March the Prime Minister expressed concern and said that he would consider the entry of Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth games in light of the outcome of the elections, does the Foreign Secretary accept that if Zimbabwe competes in the Commonwealth games, the impact of the decision on the people of Zimbabwe will be lessened? I am visiting all the sites of the Commonwealth games tomorrow.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, and the House needs to be grateful to him for the consistent position that he has adopted on Zimbabwe and for his interest in the country over many years.

I will put more details before the House as soon as I receive them, but I do not think that more should be read into the South African Government's decision on recognition than could be read into the fact that, for reasons that I have explained, we recognise states that still have diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe. We cannot take away from President Mbeki the fact that as a member of the troika that met on Tuesday, he, with the other two members, decided on behalf of the 54 members of the Commonwealth to take the action, which is unprecedented in the circumstances, to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. For that, President Mbeki. President Obasanjo and Prime Minister Howard ought to he applauded.

On the Commonwealth games, the hon. Gentleman put his point rather gently, but I say to him that that is a matter for the Commonwealth Games Federation, not for me. I have given my opinion to the House. Earlier examples in which people have sought to make Government decisions and impose them on games federations have not been particularly successful because such decisions appear to be punitive to innocent people, namely sports people, rather than to the Government concerned.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

The Foreign Secretary must be right to state that the welcome suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth is not the end of the matter. May I urge him to give us an undertaking that he will regularly return to the Dispatch Box in the next few months to make statements and initiate debates? The House can then show, first, that it is totally united against the Mugabe regime; secondly, that we will not stand idly by if opposition leaders are persecuted by a flawed judiciary; and thirdly, that we in no way recognise the corrupt election that has just taken place.

Mr. Straw

I apologise to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for my failure to answer his question about Morgan Tsvangirai. We will do everything that we can in difficult circumstances to help ensure the safety of all those who have been unjustifiably accused of crimes, including Mr. Tsvangirai, although the hon. Gentleman will understand the limitations of what we can do in practice because of the nature of the Mugabe regime.

I say to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that I have sought to keep the House fully informed at every stage, and I will continue to do so.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the responsible decision by Nigeria and South Africa will give a welcome boost to the New Partnership for Africa's Development? Will he, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister be championing NEPAD at the G8 and in other forums?

Mr. Straw

I agree that the decision is a welcome boost to NEPAD, and it would have been have really serious for NEPAD if the decision had gone the other way. No two people are more committed to NEPAD's success than my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. The Prime Minister has been in the lead on the matter throughout all the discussions in the G8, and I know that he is utterly determined to pursue NEPAD to the benefit of the whole of Africa when the G8 meets later this year.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the tactics employed by Mr. Mugabe before, during and after the election campaign resemble nothing so closely as the tactics employed by fascists in the 1920s in Italy, and by the Nazis in the 1930s in Germany? Given that some Opposition Members have been consistent supporters of the International Criminal Court, will he give an undertaking that the fate that befalls Mr. Mugabe when that court is up and running will be analogous to the fate that befell the Nazis in 1945 at Nuremberg? Will he give a specific undertaking that the Government will initiate the appropriate proceedings?

Finally, may I gently and without rancour say to the right hon. Gentleman that it ill-behoves a Labour Foreign Secretary and a Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman to lecture the Conservatives on the importance of keeping sport and politics separate when—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mr. Straw

On the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, we have to be careful about the direct comparisons we make, for the reasons cited by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). It is a question of degree. Do I believe that Mugabe and his people are probably guilty of crimes that should come before the International Criminal Court? Yes. Should they be taken before the court? Yes. Should they be punished appropriately? Yes.

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden)

Will the Foreign Secretary be more specific about his objectives regarding Mugabe himself? Is it an objective that he be removed from office, that he resign, or that there be new, free and fair elections in which Mugabe would either be free to take part, or not be allowed to take part? Will he give us some idea of the time scale of his policy? He has made it clear that we are in for a long haul, but he will understand the House's desire to be able to judge the effectiveness of his policy. Does he believe that that will be possible in six months, 12 months, two years—or when?

Mr. Straw

I think that I speak for the whole House when I say that if I had the means, I would want to ensure that President Mugabe resigns and accepts that he stole the election, and that free and fair, non-violent elections, properly monitored and observed, take place. However, as long as Mugabe is where he is, that will not happen, which is why we have to resort to the measures I have announced, which are necessary in the circumstances, but unwelcome given the context.

As for the time scale, it is important that the House neither underestimates nor overestimates what we as a country and a Government can do. I cannot say with any certainty how long it will take to remove Mugabe and his ZANU-PF henchmen from power. That is ultimately in the hands, not of us or the international community, but of the people of Zimbabwe, influenced by the circumstances there.

Of one thing I am certain, knowing about all the other awful regimes around the world. Regimes that are undemocratic, violent and based on stolen elections are inherently unstable, and therefore only temporary. Although a difficult and dark period lies immediately ahead, I believe that ultimately the future of the people of Zimbabwe will be far better.