HC Deb 07 May 2003 vol 404 cc673-6
1. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

What overseas aid projects she is supporting in Zimbabwe in 2003. [111516]

5. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

What plans she has to increase aid to Zimbabwe; and if she will make a statement.[111520]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

In Zimbabwe, my Department has provided £51 million for humanitarian needs—mostly food, but also basic medical supplies in the past 18 months. We are also spending £26 million on an HIV/ AIDS programme over the five years to 2005. The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe cannot be resolved without political and economic change, but we must do all that we can to support its people until that change comes about.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that rational and full reply, and I commend her for the work that she is doing in Zimbabwe in trying to reduce the chaos and tragedy of Mr. Mugabe's Government. Does she accept the view expressed yesterday in the House by the Foreign Secretary, who said that Zimbabwe is now affecting regional security? Does she not therefore believe that we should internationalise the problems of that country and that the United Nations should become more involved so that we can get people from other countries on the ground to realise the chaos and catastrophe of Mr. Mugabe? The sooner he can be got rid of by his own people, the better for them.

Clare Short

I certainly agree with the latter sentiment. Things seem to be mounting up. The mass stay-aways have been big and the pressure from Africa seems stronger. The disaster is terrible in terms of the destruction of the economy, thuggery, hunger and suffering. My instinct is that the end is coming and that the forces are mounting, but it cannot happen too soon.

On the effects on security in the region, many people are moving out of the country and the crisis affects the region's economy very severely. The drought is less bad in neighbouring countries, so the humanitarian crisis is also less bad there, although it is serious in Zimbabwe. The UN has been involved, especially in the humanitarian crisis.

We need new tools in the international system. When dictators destroy their countries, we do not have the tools to deal with them. I hope that when the International Criminal Court is set up, we can start indicting and arresting some of those individuals, instead of having to wait for the country to fall apart before the international community can act.

Mr. Wyatt

Have there been any meetings of the Commonwealth's financial action taskforce, which deals with laundered money? Zimbabwe is a member of the taskforce and we have observer status.

Clare Short

I do not know whether that taskforce has held a meeting, but I shall certainly find out and let my hon. Friend know. As I should have told the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Commonwealth has also been actively involved, so there is international engagement, but the process is taking longer than we would all like.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Does the right hon. Lady not agree that it is grotesque that this tyrant, who is depriving his people of their lives and his country of its prosperity, should still carry a high British honour? Will she advocate its immediate removal?

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's depiction of President Mugabe. The suffering and destruction that he has brought upon his people—a wealthy nation and an educated people—are unbearable. I am not an expert in honours, but I shall convey his view to the appropriate authorities.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

What planning is my right hon. Friend's Department doing? While Mugabe is still in charge in Zimbabwe, the crisis will obviously continue. Until normal relations are restored in the country, there will be no proper planting or food production. Has she given any thought to how many years this crisis will continue?

Clare Short

I am afraid that I cannot predict exactly when tyrants will fall. We all know when it is coming. When Milosevic fell, it went on for longer than we would have hoped but we knew that it was coming. In the meantime, we must plan flexibly against nature, which is why assessments are being made of the current harvest. That makes a difference, but it is not enough, because the fundamental wreckage of the economy is political rather than a result of the drought.

We must also plan for flexibility. As soon as there is some sort of legitimate Government with whom the international community can work—I hope that a Government of national unity will start the reform process—the whole international community will be able to engage and help the people of Zimbabwe to start rebuilding.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I am sorry that the House will have to put up with a solo act, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is with his Select Committee in Washington this week.

The Secretary of State said that pressure from Africa was getting stronger, but despite the fact that a high-level delegation of African leaders went to meet President Mugabe behind closed doors on Monday, there has been no apparent progress. What measures is her Department taking to buttress the efforts of the Movement for Democratic Change to bring an end to state-sponsored violence? Does she share the MDC's view that regional powers are shielding Mugabe from international censure?

Clare Short

I agree with all who have said that pressure from African neighbours and from African countries generally has been very disappointing, but that is partly because Mugabe was such a hero, especially in southern Africa, for his stand against the Ian Smith regime with people who were living under apartheid. His reputation was such that people were unwilling to believe the truth of what he was doing to his country. He also confused Africa by claiming that the issue was all about white farmers with excessive land; and there was indeed a case for stronger land redistribution. Consequently, pressure from Africa has been much less than it should have been. The voices are getting stronger and the pressure is getting greater, although it remains behind closed doors.

As the hon. Lady knows, we are an international development agency. We support the efforts of the Foreign Office to bring pressure to bear throughout the system on state-sponsored violence, but we make no conditions in terms of feeding those who are to be fed—humanitarian aid cannot be used for political purposes.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

Surely we can do more to put pressure on the international community to ensure that Mugabe does eventually go. What are we doing to ensure that people in Zimbabwe know that there is a better life in front of them when Mugabe has gone?

Clare Short

I do not honestly think that we can do more: everything that can be done in the international community has been done. That action has been led by my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and I have joined in whenever I can. The frustrating aspect of situations where dictators are wrecking their countries is that the tools that the international community can bring to bear are limited. The people of Zimbabwe have no doubt about how terrible the situation is there is cruelty and dictatorship. Their power to bring about change is limited, but they are struggling to do so, despite the intimidation, as the results of the recent by-elections showed.

Forward to