HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc165-6
12. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

If he will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe. [91793]

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

The political, economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is of grave concern to the UK Government and the wider international community. The leadership's policies have contributed to a situation where the country can no longer feed its people. We have increased our humanitarian assistance in response to the current crisis. We are also continuing to work closely with our EU and Commonwealth partners, along with other countries in the southern Africa region, to encourage the early restoration of good governance and sound economic management in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Allen

As a member of that diminishing band of masochists—a supporter of the England cricket team I nonetheless commend the Government for trying to persuade that team not to go to Zimbabwe. Just in case on future occasions there might be some confusion about doing too little too late in similar circumstances, may I urge my hon. Friend to obtain from the cricketing authorities an England fixtures card for the next 10 years?

Mr. Rammell

As a fellow member of the all-party group and a passionate England cricket fan, I am well aware of the fixtures list—as all of us are. I simply reiterate the point that we have made on a number of occasions, going back to last July. Given the appalling circumstances in Zimbabwe, we do not believe that the England cricket team should play in Zimbabwe. We cannot order them but we do not believe that participation is in anyone's interest—least of all that of English cricket.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

While agreeing with that, the question should be answered by the Foreign Secretary. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to his earlier replies. There is a case for indicting the Zimbabwe Government for policies akin to genocide. Has he seen the paper sent to him by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, produced by a delegation from Matabeleland, that indicates that a particular race group or tribe is being singled out in a way that amounts to genocide?

Mr. Rammell

I am happy to look at that issue again but all the legal advice that we have at the moment is that it would be virtually impossible to sustain an international legal case within the International Criminal Court on the ground of genocide. I would much welcome the opportunity to stand here and say something different but if I were to do so, I would not be saying what I believe to be the case.

Tony Cunningham (Workington)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the leaders of African countries—particularly those in the region—have a vital role to play in restoring the democracy that was stolen from the people of Zimbabwe by Mugabe?

Mr. Rammell

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We are in constant dialogue with all the African states and frequently stress the importance of them pressing the Mugabe regime. We emphasise also that it is a regional problem, not just a problem for Zimbabwe.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Minister fails to understand the history of Zimbabwe. There is absolutely no doubt in the eyes of the majority of people in the civilised world that Mr. Mugabe and his Government carried out genocide against the Matabele people in the early 1980s. In 1983, thousands of Matabeles were slaughtered by the Korean-trained brigade in Zimbabwe. Is it not possible even at this stage to bring a charge of genocide against Mr. Mugabe, to prevent what he is planning now—further genocide against the Matabele people?

Mr. Rammell

With regard to the incidents in the early 1980s, I am aware of the honourable role that the hon. Gentleman played in bringing them to public notice. Nevertheless, action was not taken at that stage. As to the current debate about whether it is possible to take legal action for genocide under the auspices of the ICC, that would only be possible from the date at which the court's statute came into being—which was 1 July 2002. I reiterate that while I would like to stand here and say that it would be reasonable to pursue a legal action for genocide, I do not believe that is the case.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Does the Foreign Office view the refusal of President Mugabe to go into exile as a snub to an initiative of President Mbeki of South Africa, and if so, is this likely to make South Africa more ready to bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe, since it is the only country in the region that has the leverage to effect change?

Mr. Rammell

We certainly hope that President Mugabe accepts the wise counsel of President Mbeki. We are also conscious that the suggestion of a possible arrangement has been denied on all sides, but I believe that discussions between those parties will continue.