HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc152-4
7. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD)

If he will make a statement on Zimbabwe. [150693]

14. Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

If he will make a statement on relations with the Government of Zimbabwe. [150700]

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

The political, economic and humanitarian outlook in Zimbabwe remains bleak. There has been no recent progress in the dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition. The treason trial of the opposition leader has resumed, and the independent press continues to be harassed. Approximately 6 million Zimbabweans will be dependent on international food aid before the next harvest in April.

Norman Lamb

I thank the Minister. Does he agree that given the dire and worsening humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, the total disregard of the rule of law and the denial of individual rights and liberties, it would be entirely inappropriate for the England and Wales Cricket Board to continue with its tour of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Mullin

The Government would prefer that the England cricket team did not go to Zimbabwe, but at the end of the day it is up to the cricket board. I understand that it is meeting later this week, and we await the outcome of its deliberations with interest.

Mr. Mackay

I hope the Minister will excuse me if I have no confidence whatever in Present Mbeki's latest proposals for talks between the Government of Zimbabwe and the Opposition, because he has singularly failed so far. Does that not mean that we have an even greater responsibility? May I just return to sanctions, and specifically the very sharp sanctions that so many people in Zimbabwe want introduced? They would penalise those who are funding the regime in Zimbabwe, but they are not being fully implemented at the moment by us, our European colleagues or our American allies.

Mr. Mullin

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the EU sanctions come up for renewal towards the end of next month. We are looking for ways to strengthen them, but of course we have to do that in line with the international community. We are discussing with our partners in Europe how we can make them more effective without inflicting greater suffering on the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)

In view of the information made available last week, that during the past year thousands of people in Zimbabwe have died of malnutrition, does my hon. Friend agree that his Department should continue to work with the Department for International Development and the United Nations food programme to ensure that ordinary people do not suffer from the terrible nature of the regime?

Mr. Mullin

That has been our policy from the outset. We are one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. As I said in my first answer, we estimate that about 6 million Zimbabweans will be dependent on international food aid before the next harvest and we shall be making, as we have done in the past, a major contribution.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

Is not the decision to be made this week by the cricket board much the same as that made, for over a third of a century, about playing in apartheid South Africa? Are not the principles the same? If it was wrong, as Labour MPs argued at the time, for any such cricket tour to take place in apartheid South Africa, how could the proposed tour be justified when the rule of law has been totally destroyed by Mugabe and his fellow gangsters?

Mr. Mullin

As I made clear in my first answer, the Government would prefer the cricket team not to go, but at the end of the day it is a matter for the cricket board and it must make the decision. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote to the ECB last week, making the Government's position very clear—that it is a decision for the board, at the end of the day.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

When the Minister speaks of the 6 million who may be in danger of malnutrition before the next harvest, is he aware of the pressure on some farmers, who have been told now to sack their workers, pay them redundancy and then re-engage them? When one went to the bank to try to obtain help for those workers, he found that the banks could not help him. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the Mugabe regime will not siphon off the international aid to their supporters and miss the people who really need it?

Mr. Mullin

The distribution of humanitarian aid is very strictly monitored, but we are well aware that the disastrous policies of the Mugabe Government have collapsed much of the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe. As the hon. Gentleman says, some who have suffered worst are the workers who were employed on the farms of some of the bigger landowners.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

I have heard what the Minister has had to say about the cricket tour, but he knows that Mr. Des Wilson of the cricket board wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 15 January, asking a very simple question, whether in present circumstances the Government believes that such a tour would be wise". The board was looking for a clear answer. The Minister described the Foreign Secretary's answer as clear. I will tell the House what the Foreign Secretary said. He described the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and talked about the sanctions, which we all know are ineffectual. He ended with these words: You may wish to consider whether a high profile England cricket tour at this time is consistent with that approach". When will he realise that the ECB is looking not for weasel words, but for clear, unequivocal guidance? Will he now come off the fence and repeat after me these very simple words: not only would this tour be unwise, it would be morally wrong and should be called off?

Mr. Mullin

This gets increasingly pathetic, if I may say so. We receive rather a lot of letters from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Zimbabwe, and some of them appear to be written in green ink. Does he write them himself, or is there some teenage scribbler in his office? However, the fact is that the Government have made—[Interruption.] He is quite right; it is a serious issue and I wish Opposition Members would treat it seriously, instead of playing these—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let the Minister reply.

Mr. Mullin

Instead of playing these foolish and pathetic word games.

My right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Opposition Members' indignation is entirely synthetic. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote to the cricket board last week. He answered its questions about the situation in Zimbabwe very clearly. We are in close contact with the cricket board, but at the end of the day it is for it to make a decision.

Incidentally, we are a free country. The Government do not have the power to ban people from going to Zimbabwe, as the Government with whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman was once associated found out when they tried to ban people from going to the Moscow Olympics. His former hon. Friend, Sebastian Coe, went there and won a gold medal.

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