HC Deb 01 July 2004 vol 423 cc451-523

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

[Relevant documents: The Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 339, on Zimbabwe, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 5869.]

1.15 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

It is the great misfortune of the people of Zimbabwe that Robert Mugabe's regime has no regard for human rights, the rule of law, or the responsibility of government to provide competent economic management. A comparatively prosperous country has been plunged into poverty by the recklessness of its ruling party. Members of the Zimbabwean opposition have been subjected to persistent violence and intimidation. And on the country's farms, regime thugs have subjected owners and workers, the great majority black, but also white, to a campaign of terror. Throughout, the Government of Zimbabwe have acted in defiance of the international community and have used every device to present problems of their own making as the fault of the former colonial power, the United Kingdom. Let me start by briefly recalling the context.

As the House is aware, the Lancaster house conference in 1979 brought independence to Zimbabwe after a long and bloody conflict. One of the main issues at Lancaster house was land reform, and the agreement set out a clear pathway, based on justice and the rule of law, for land ownership in Zimbabwe to be extended. The British Government at the time made it clear that no one donor, including the UK. could pay for the entirety of such a process, but they did commit £47 million to land reform over the following years. It is a mark of the Zimbabwean Government's failure over that period that they handed back£3 million of that £47 million, because they had insufficient projects on which to spend it—a sign that until the late 1990s, the process, whose pace was dictated by the Zimbabwean Government, had been progressing at a relatively modest pace and with a low political priority. This coincided with years of growing prosperity for Zimbabwe.

The idea that this was some kind of golden age for Mugabe's Zimbabwe is false, however. His brutality and desire to stifle opposition by any available means was also increasingly clear. During the 1980s, some 20,000 people were massacred by North Korean-trained soldiers in Matabeleland—atrocities that went largely unremarked by the British Government of the day. Those massacres were only ended when the ZAPU party of Joshua Nkomo was subsumed within Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, beginning a virtual one-party state in Zimbabwe, which lasted for some 10 years.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

The Foreign Secretary is perfectly correct to place it on record that the British Government of the time did not make the protest that they should have done. But will he also put it on record that nor did the Opposition at the time?

Mr. Straw

We have looked through Hansard, and the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, but it was the Government who had the responsibility—I am sure that a point will be made back to me in a moment. There were Adjournment debates about the massacres in Matabeleland, and the response was remarkably muted, not least because of the reassuring words that the House were offered. Speaking in 2002, Lord Howe said of that period that it was a difficult situation for Mr. Mugabe to handle. At the time, in response to a debate initiated, I think, by a Labour Opposition Member, the then Minister of State in the Foreign Office, Malcolm Rifkind, said: We recognise that the Zimbabwe authorities face a security problem in Matabeleland."—[Official Report, 25 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 606.] Perhaps they had faced a security problem there, but massacring 20,000 people is no response to a security problem in any civilised country.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend give way"?

Mr. Straw

I should like to make a little progress.

Serious opposition to Mugabe's rule emerged again in the late 1990s with the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. The M DC's influence became clear in 2000, when a referendum on constitutional changes saw ZANU-PF's first-ever defeat in a popular poll. This time Robert Mugabe responded to opposition to his rule by seizing on the issue of land reform, breaking away from the pathway based on the rule of law which had been agreed at Lancaster house— by him—and beginning a policy of violent appropriation.

So great was international concern at this that President Mugabe reluctantly agreed that his Foreign Minister, Stanislaus Mudenge, would meet a delegation of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in Abuja in September 2001, under the aegis of President Obasanjo of Nigeria. I attended that meeting on behalf of the United Kingdom. After some very tough negotiations, we agreed a deal—between the six Commonwealth Ministers and the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister—to end the crisis. The text is available. The deal was that the international community would provide further money for land reform in exchange for a return to the rule of law in Zimbabwe. I, as it were, put a cheque from the British Government on the table.

Mugabe, however, quickly reneged on the agreement, not least because international focus was rapidly moving elsewhere following the atrocities of 11 September, five days later, in New York and Washington. The farm invasions and human rights abuses that had preceded the Abuja meeting were swiftly resumed, and the abuses continue today. They form part of a wider picture of disastrous policies in Zimbabwe, which have brought economic ruin on a once prospering country: a man-made tragedy which Zimbabwe could and should have avoided.

Mr. Field

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for not giving way earlier, because what he has said strengthens my point.

Not many Labour Members are now happy to defend the Government's stance on Iraq in public, although I am one. One of the points that is always thrown at us at public meetings is that the Government were resolute in Iraq but lack that resolution in Zimbabwe. What are we going to do, apart from organising protests, to stop the genocide that is unfolding before us?

Mr. Straw

I am deeply grateful for my right hon. Friend's support on Iraq, although I must add that he is in good and wide company. [Interruption] Yes, and deep. I shall offer him some counsel after the debate.

What my right hon. Friend is displaying is, of course, frustration. But although what is going on in Zimbabwe is appalling, the present situation—in terms of human rights—is not as terrible as that of he mid-1980s, when the then Government sat on their hands. Nor is it as terrible as what happened under Saddam's regime, over 35 years, on any scale. We should be clear about that. We have not been able to do everything—and I shall deal specifically with what my right hon. Friend has in mind—but that does not mean that we have not been able to do anything.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab)

Rather than making a comparison with Iraq, will my right hon. Friend consider western Darfur, where the international community has been extremely effective—hopefully, at least—in putting pressure on the Sudanese Government to deal with their humanitarian problems, to give the people protection and food, and to allow aid to go in while the political situation is being resolved?

Mr. Straw

As I shall explain, we have done a huge amount to build up international consensus. There are limits to that, but if we had not worked by engaging fully with the European Union and the Commonwealth we would have been able to do far less, however loud our protests. I might add that one of the reasons why the full extent of Mugabe's economic policies is disguised is the extent, and relative efficiency, of the food aid that we are providing. That has not been the case in respect of western Darfur.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way once more; then I must make some progress.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

The Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned the massacre in Matabeleland in 1983. Some Conservative Members made representations to the Government, not least by tabling questions. I deeply regret the fact that the Government of the day did not act to deal with what was clearly happening, for whatever reason—in my view, a lack of moral principle. Will the Foreign Secretary now announce that additional action will be taken to help the poor people of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw

I will set out the action that we are already taking, but I have no announcement to make about additional action. The action that we have taken was dependent not on a debate, but on a clear analysis.

The hon. Gentleman was right in saying that he has been consistent in his representations about what has happened in Zimbabwe. Indeed, I have before me a question he put to the then Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe, on 22 February 1984. He asked a fine question; I am afraid he received a dead bat of an answer.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I want to make some progress. I may be able to take an intervention later.

Let me spell out the facts. Three quarters of the Zimbabwean population are now living below the poverty line. Some 7 million people have required food aid in recent seasons, in a country which only a few years ago exported food to its neighbours. But despite the evidence of another humanitarian crisis in prospect for this year, the Government of Zimbabwe claim that international food aid will not be needed. That decision not to ask for assistance will make it difficult for donors to deliver an effective international response if and when food aid is in fact required.

Alongside his disastrous policies, Mugabe's ZANUPF party continues to suppress all opposition to his rule. Both print and broadcast media in Zimbabwe are now virtually a Government-controlled monopoly. The judgment in the trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai has still not been handed down, although the trial itself concluded months ago.

The Zimbabwean authorities also continue to devise new powers to stamp out legitimate opposition, such as detention for up to a month without trial, which could be used to suppress dissent and protest. According to a report issued by a South African-based non-governmental organisation last March, 90 per cent. of opposition MPs in Zimbabwe have been subjected to human rights violations since 2000: 16 per cent. have been tortured, 24 per cent. say that they have suffered assassination attempts, and three have died as a result of assaults.

Mr. Gibb

In March this year, the Prime Minister made an important speech on global terror in which he, in effect, announced a new doctrine of intervention in cases in which states oppress and brutalise their people", which he rightly saw as a future source of international terror. That was an impressive and important speech, but I am unclear about how the new doctrine applies to countries such as Zimbabwe, particularly in view of other international commitments in respect of our troops.

Mr. Straw

I shall go through the things we have done, and the things we are not going to do, in a moment. If we are to deal with the Zimbabwe issue, however, we must avoid doing what Robert Mugabe wants most, and making this a bilateral dispute between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. That is at the heart of Mugabe's strategy.

Of course the purpose of debates in the House of Commons is to ensure that Ministers are accountable and doing what the House wants, and there should be proper debate. But I urge those who feel that we have not done enough—I believe that we have done all we could reasonably do, and more—to think about the implications of suggesting that there are things we could do that would not work, and would have exactly the effect that Mugabe seeks.

I am aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has made the same point—that because of our policy of having had to carry out armed intervention in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the example he used, Kosovo, we should consider the notion of what amounts to armed intervention in respect of Zimbabwe. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to make it clear when they speak what they are asking for. We need to know whether armed intervention is on their agenda—that is fundamental to our having an effective debate. If they are not calling for armed intervention, the Opposition must accept that they are trying to score some points on this issue without having a clear strategy.

I recall that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes put to me a series of points on Zimbabwe, saying that we ought to follow the example of Kosovo. After he had made those points, I wrote to him to ask whether he was proposing that the United Kingdom take military action against Zimbabwe. He wrote back to me to say that no, he had never suggested that. If that is the case, what on earth was the point of raising the example of Kosovo? The difference between Kosovo and Zimbabwe is that in Kosovo we contemplated and took action, whereas we are not contemplating taking military action in Zimbabwe, nor do we have any intention of so doing.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

Is not the danger of what the Opposition are saying that unrealistic expectations will be raised? There is no chance of any neighbouring country providing bases, and that is apart from the point that my right hon. Friend makes about this situation being construed as a bilateral dispute. Will he also confirm that there is no realistic prospect of the matter even reaching the agenda of the United Nations Security Council because of African opposition?

Mr. Straw

Indeed, and I shall come on to that, but first it is worth my recording some of the points that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes made. In August 2002, he asked what the difference was between ethnic cleansing and state torture in Kosovo and Zimbabwe, and why the Government had been so keen to act in Kosovo and yet were so inactive on Zimbabwe. Given that we have done a great deal in respect of Zimbabwe apart from military action, the clear implication of that question was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was proposing military action in Zimbabwe. On 1 April last year, he said again: We acted in Kosovo because of unacceptable floutings of human rights … The oppressed and persecuted people of Zimbabwe … see nothing post-colonial in asking us to intervene; rather, they see it as a moral obligation".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 1 April 2003; Vol. 402, c. 209WH.] I have to say, however, that I have received no invitations from anyone in Zimbabwe, least of all the Movement for Democratic Change, for us to take military action.

In February, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we had to look at all the options. When I finally pinned him down, he said that he had not called for military action in Zimbabwe. Just to pick up on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was raising, what on earth could the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes have been calling for if he was raising the Kosovo example except military action, given that the difference between the treatment of Zimbabwe and Kosovo was military action?

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way, but it is quite obvious that he has so little to say about what the Government are going to do in Zimbabwe that he is fabricating a case to which he can then try to provide an answer. May I make it absolutely clear, as I have on a number of occasions, that I have never suggested military intervention in Zimbabwe? I ask the right hon. Gentleman again this simple question, which is an important one in to ms of human rights: what is the difference between ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw

Of course the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands that where there is ethnic cleansing, there is ethnic cleansing. The really serious ethnic cleansing—given that he wishes to lower this debate to a partisan knockabout—took place when he was supporting a Conservative Government in 1985, when 20,000 died in what was plain ethnic cleansing. The then Government, far from taking military action against the Mugabe regime, applauded it and said, "Oh well, they've got a bit of a security problem."

I shall just run through what we have done in respect of Zimbabwe, which might assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and others. We have kept thousands of Zimbabweans alive by providing food and other humanitarian help. We are the biggest cash donor of all and have spent £67 million on humanitarian and food aid since 2001. We have helped Zimbabwe's many AIDS victims, and our programme to help those suffering and those left behind has involved expenditure of £26.5 million so far. There are more than 700,000 AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. We are actively supporting those working for peaceful change in Zimbabwe: lawyers, trade unionists, civil rights activists, the free media and Members of Parliament. We have given asylum to those persecuted by Mugabe and allowed others at risk to remain in the United Kingdom for now. At the same time, we have borne down hard on illegal immigration with the introduction of a visa regime. We have helped the large community in Zimbabwe with ties to the United Kingdom by maintaining a full embassy and consular service to them.

In terms of international action, we have hit Mugabe where it hurts through a travel ban and asset freeze on him and his henchmen. We know that they hate the ignominy and inconvenience that that brings them. I can tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and others who have raised this point that we have been in the lead on sanctions against Zimbabwe. They were only going to be effective if we had international consensus. We could easily have put sanctions on Zimbabwe's political elite ourselves, but that would have raised the question, "Well, so what?" If those people had then been able to travel to every other country in the European Union and to the United States, and had suffered no opprobrium from the Commonwealth, it would have been we who were mocked, not Mugabe.

However, the effect of our engagement in the European Union, and of a great deal of effort, has been that we have got the other countries of the EU—initially 15 and now 25—many of whom know very little about Zimbabwe, and for whom it is not a particular issue because they have no history with it, to accept our case for sanctions against the Zimbabwe elite, in the face of quite strong African lobbying. I got those sanctions introduced in 2002, at a time when relations with Germany and France were difficult, and we got them tightened last year and extended this year. We have also persuaded the United States to introduce a similar embargo—

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

The right hon. Gentleman persuaded the United States?

Mr. Straw

Yes, we did. We worked very hard with the United States, and I work very hard with Secretary Powell, to achieve that. Alongside that, we managed to get the Commonwealth to take tough action on Zimbabwe, which led initially to its suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth because it had failed to run its elections properly. Then, because of a further, tough decision in November 2003 by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, led courageously by President Obasanjo of Nigeria, the Zimbabweans decided to pull out of the Commonwealth altogether rather than continue to accept sanctions.

In addition, we have established an arms embargo in respect of Zimbabwe, again throughout the European Union. That would have been easy for us to do, but ineffective. However, it is effective with 15—and now 25—European Union members, and it is hobbling the Zimbabwean military where it hurts.

Mr. Frank Field

I thank the Foreign Secretary for the sanctions that have been applied to some people to restrict their travel. When hon. Members from both sides of this House met some Zimbabwean opposition members, they asked us for a modest extension of the list of such people. Is my right hon. Friend saying that he just does not command the support among our European colleagues to achieve a modest extension to the list of people to whom thy travel restrictions should apply?

Mr. Straw

We are always open to proposals. We obtained quite a substantial extension this year when the sanctions came up for renewal, and we would be happy to consider any future suggestions from my right hon. Friend.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend saying that on no occasion would this country feel that, as a country with a particular historical relationship with Zimbabwe, we could go a little further than the European Union? I am thinking particularly of the Ministers in the Mugabe Government whose children are being educated privately in this country, while the children of the vast majority of Zimbabweans cannot even get to schools because Mugabe has closed them.

Mr. Straw

I am not saying that there would be no such occasion. We go further than our European Union colleagues in many ways, and we are always open to proposals for extending bans, although it happens that the legal base for bans is different depending on whether we are acting bilaterally or through the European Union as a whole. I thought carefully about the issue of families when it came up. Generally, I think that we should target the real evildoers and decision makers rather than their families, but I accept that the House might have a different point of view on that issue.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con) rose—

Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman and then I shall get on with my speech.

Mr. Howarth

I am very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. He said earlier that one of the actions taken by the British Government was to provide Zimbabwe with food aid, but is it not the case that some 90 per cent. of such aid is not reaching the proper recipients? What can he tell us about that, and is he aware that according to the shadow justice Minister of the Movement for Democratic Change, David Coulthard, during the Lupane by-election people were being told that unless they voted ZANU-PF, they would not get food aid? What are the Government doing to ensure that the food aid given by the British people gets to the people of Zimbabwe who need it?

Mr. Straw

We are aware that people have been intimidated by being told that unless they vote in a particular way, they will not get their food aid. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that 90 per cent. of food aid does not reach its intended recipients is wrong, according to the best information that we have. The World Food Programme monitors such aid very carefully and most of it gets to the intended recipients, but that does not mean that the hon. Gentleman's first point is inaccurate. There is plenty of evidence of people being intimidated and encouraged, as it were, to change their political approach in return for food aid.

Sir Nicholas Winterton


Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I want to deal with an issue that is central to this debate, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead raised earlier: the role of the international community, particularly the United Nations.

We were able to take action in respect of Iraq because of its defiance of mandatory UN Security Council resolutions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead is familiar with the story. Also, we took action in Afghanistan in pursuit of instructions from the Security Council, and in respect of Kosovo, although there was a period when we were acting without direct mandate; that action was endorsed by the Security Council retrospectively.

There has been no Security Council resolution in respect of Zimbabwe, and let me explain to the House why. We discuss Zimbabwe with the United Nations very regularly—particularly with the UN secretariat and agencies—and it is fully aware of the situation. Its own programmes are very actively engaged in providing food and other aid.

For three years, at the instigation of the United Kingdom, the European Union has tabled a resolution in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, drawing attention to the widespread violation of human rights by the Government of Zimbabwe. Regrettably, other African members of the UNCHR have used procedural motions to block discussion of those resolutions. That highlights the fact that many countries, including Zimbabwe's neighbours, see the situation differently from us. Exposing those differences in a body such as the UNCHR is one thing; but it is my belief that it would be counter-productive to do so in so high-profile an arena as the UN Security Council, as some Members have suggested doing. I am as certain as I can be that President Mugabe would dearly like us to seek action by the Security Council and then fail, as that would deliver him the propaganda coup of exposing divisions within the international community. Our view is that doing so now—to try but to fail—would put the cause of democracy in Zimbabwe back, not forward.

I have spelled out the action that we have been taking, and that remains the case. [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes makes some comment from a sedentary position, but there is a question that he must deal with. He will doubtless imply that what we need to do is to invade Zimbabwe, but we are not going to do so. If he is not suggesting that, he needs to say exactly what his proposal is and how it differs from what we have undertaken. In all the huff and puff that we have heard from him in the past three years, he has never come up with a single constructive proposal. Either we have already put what he proposes into practice, or it cannot be put into practice because of a failure to obtain international consensus.

The second thing that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will say is, "Take it to the United Nations." Of course we would take it to the UN if we thought that doing so would help. But our judgment is that, far from helping, taking it to the Security Council—still less to the General Assembly—and then failing would actually undermine the cause that we all seek: a democratic and free Zimbabwe. He might wish to address that point.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

Perhaps we can all agree on the fact that Zimbabwe is a test for Africa. There is no value in the New Partnership for Africa's Development if Africa itself is not going to try to sort out the problems of Zimbabwe. Can we not agree that Presidents Mbeki, Obasanjo and Museveni need to address this issue, which is primarily one for Africa? If they cannot address it, there is very little that can be done for Africa. All that we are doing through the European Commission, on international development and in terms of meeting the millennium development goals will be as nothing without that. So can we in this Chamber please agree that this is a challenge for Africa and our Commonwealth colleagues in Africa?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman: it is indeed a test for Africa. However, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes is trying to suggest that it is somehow a test for this country or this Government. We are there to help, but as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) so wisely and shrewdly pointed out—I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes is listening—the idea that the United Kingdom, as the former colonial power, and in the absence of an African consensus to get to grips with a problem that stares it in the face, can take action beyond that which we are already taking is pie in the sky. That raises expectations beyond the point at which they can be fulfilled, but worse still, it feeds the Mugabe propaganda that we still hanker after exercising some kind of imperialist, colonialist power there, or that we still have it.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East.

Donald Anderson

I want to reinforce my right hon. Friend's point. When the Foreign Affairs Committee recently visited New York, we sought advice on this point in particular, not only in respect of our own mission but of many others. It was absolutely clear that there was no prospect of getting such action on to the agenda, so to suggest or infer otherwise is not only gesture politics but wholly ineffective and counterproductive.

Mr. Straw

I shall now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt).

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)

If the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting did actually agree that President Obasanjo of Nigeria is to be in charge of talking to Mugabe regularly, how many times has he visited Zimbabwe since December and how many times per week is he in touch? It seems to us that things hay got much worse since December. What on earth can we do, given the circumstances?

Mr. Straw

President Obasanjo has been very active and courageous on the issue of Zimbabwe as he has on so much else, including the deep challenges affecting his own country. But the responsibility for such matters lies not just with President Obasanjo; it also lies with other African leaders. The Prime Minister and I have had an ongoing dialogue with President Mbeki of South Africa and his Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma, and we have encouraged them to shift their position. We respect the view that they are taking but we do not altogether agree with it. However, in the end South Africa is the sovereign nation next door to Zimbabwe, and it is suffering worse then we are from the effects of mismanagement in Zimbabwe. But we have encouraged President Mbeki to continue with the private talks between the Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF that he says have begun to develop. We have yet to see a positive, result, but if they produce one we will be the first to cheer.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

Mugabe is a notorious tyrant, as we all know, and he knows the loathing that Britain has for him. On the question of consistency, is my right hon. Friend aware that when Labour Members repeatedly raised the issue of the police state under Smith in the 1960s and the action that was required, the then Conservative Opposition were totally opposed to tough sanctions, and argued time and again that sanctions were ineffective and should not be applied against the illegal regime? At least we are consistent in opposing every form of tyranny.

Mr. Straw

I do indeed remember that, and the failure of Governments to take action at that stage against the regime of Ian Smith laid some of the foundations for the political instability that has followed.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The Foreign Secretary knows that I entirely accept his good faith, and that I do not try to score silly points. He would surely agree that it is important for the Government to bring up all violations with the Zimbabwean representative in this country, the ambassador. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr.Mullin), about that, and received a letter saying, "I do not believe that raising this issue with the ambassador will lead to any change in Zimbabwe policy." Well, it may not, but that is no excuse for not highlighting violations. I am talking about the closure of Peterhouse school and the imprisonment of the rector, the headmaster, which is depriving black children of the opportunity to go there. That amounts to a real violation. Whenever such matters are drawn to the Foreign Secretary's attention, will he please ensure that the ambassador knows how we feel?

Mr. Straw

I have not seen the exchange of correspondence, but I think that the hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point—and the answer to his question is yes.

I have spelled out a list of 10 actions that are designed to keep Zimbabweans alive, to help its AIDS victims, to support those working for peaceful change, to give asylum to those persecuted by Mugabe, to help the large community in Zimbabwe with ties to the United Kingdom, to hit Mugabe where it hurts, to hobble the Zimbabwean military, to build and lead an international coalition against Mugabe and to make clear our readiness to help rebuild Zimbabwe.

As I have already said, there are three things that we are not going to do. First, we will not impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe since this would only hurt ordinary Zimbabweans. Secondly, as we have spelled out, we will not send in troops—for reasons that I hope that the whole House accepts. Thirdly—I invite the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes to take note—we will not play Mugabe's game by making this a "UK versus Zimbabwe" issue. We are stronger and he is weaker when we are part of an international coalition for change, not running our own isolated campaign.

Before I conclude, I would like to deal with the issue of cricket tours. I know that hon. Members are concerned, as I am, both about the England tour to Zimbabwe this winter and about Zimbabwe's participation in the champions trophy one-day tournament in London this September, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has drawn the House's attention.

On 10 June, a sub-committee of the International Cricket Council recommended that Zimbabwe's test matches scheduled for the rest of this year should be deferred. That period covers the planned England tour. It happens that today, as we conduct our debate, the ICC is deciding whether to ratify the recommendation. Even if it does, let me make it clear that that would affect the test series in Zimbabwe, but not the one-day games to which the England and Wales Cricket Board is also committed. The Government's position remains clear: we do not have state-run sport in this country, nor would we want it. Decisions on cricket tours are rightly for the cricket authorities to take.

On the visit of the Zimbabwean team to England, we do not believe that stopping Zimbabwean cricketers from travelling to the UK will advance our cause or the cause of the Zimbabwean people, any more than it would have been appropriate to have banned the Zimbabwean team from the Commonwealth games. They came over here and took part in those games. The EU travel ban is rightly targeted not at sportsmen and women, but at members of the regime.

Kate Hoey

Is not the difference between cricket and other sports in Zimbabwe the fact that cricket, very specifically, has been used by Mugabe as a tool for developing his own political purposes? He is the patron—more than the Queen here—of cricket and he has abused that fact. That is why it is unacceptable to have a Zimbabwean team coming here in the name of the country and Mugabe. It is certainly not acceptable for them to come into my constituency to play at the Oval, surrounded by hundreds of Zimbabwean asylum seekers.

Mr. Straw

Any visit here by the Zimbabwean cricket team is likely to engender very strong feelings and possibly peaceful protest, which is the inherent right of anyone living in a democracy. That is different from saying that we should ban the team from coming here. One of the tests of a Government in a democracy is whether they allow to take place all sorts of things with which they happen to disagree rather than agree. I take careful note of what my hon. Friend says about her constituency because I happen to live in it and I have been well represented by her over many years—

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Especially on fox hunting.

Mr. Straw

Yes, we could do with a bit of fox hunting in the backstreets of Lambeth, given the large number of foxes there. Leaving that issue aside—

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

Yes, please.

Mr. Straw

I hear my hon. Friend say, "yes, please". So leaving that aside, of course I am aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, but I ask her to take account of the fact that what people feel and what individuals do by way of protest is different from the issue of whether Governments should use their authority to stop people travelling.

I have set out in the debate all the actions that we are taking. I am extremely happy to listen carefully to proposals from both sides of the House about what further action we could take. We have never dismissed ideas or proposals for further action just because we have not, as it were, invented them. That is not and never has been my approach to government. So far as we can judge, however, I believe that, in the current circumstances, we are doing almost all that we could do.

We support those in Zimbabwe who are working for the return of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. So, along with the rest of the international community, we are offering political and practical support to those who oppose the regime and are working for peaceful change. We stand ready to work with any Administration in Zimbabwe who have been democratically elected through a free and fair vote, and who are committed to respecting human rights and the rule of law and to addressing poverty.

We recognise that such a Government would need the full support of the international community in rebuilding the country. We would expect to play an important role in any credible recovery programme, and we are already in discussion with other international donors—including the European Commission, the United States and the World Bank—to prepare contingency plans for rebuilding Zimbabwe's economy and institutions, once democracy has been restored.

I am clear that, however long it takes, this great country will once again have a bright future as a democracy. Achieving that democracy will remain the focus of the Government's policy. We will continue to work with the broadest international coalition to apply pressure for change, while helping to improve the humanitarian situation of the Zimbabwean people. A return to democracy and to policies that help rather than harm the poor is the best hope for the Zimbabwean people to rebuild their once prosperous country. For our part, we will do all that we can to bring such a change about.

1.57 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

I welcome the debate, but I have to say that it is not before time. It is, in fact, the first time during the seven years of this Government that we have had a debate on Zimbabwe in Government time. I am nevertheless grateful for it, because I think that it is important.

I genuinely hoped that the Government's belated recognition of the need to debate the issue indicated that they were at last beginning seriously to address it, but, having listened to the Foreign Secretary, I have to say that I am disappointed. He made a pathetic, complacent speech that brought no hope or comfort to the oppressed people of Zimbabwe. It was long on historical analysis and more than just short on action, given that he began by saying that he was not going to announce any further or new action. He was high on accusations of a historical nature and Aunt Sallies but low on answers and, indeed, on accuracy.

After those sever years I could indulge in a sort of "recherche du temps perdu", but it would serve little purpose because although Zimbabwe's problems are rooted in the past, they are very much current and in the future. Four years on from the last rigged parliamentary elections and two years on from the "stolen" presidential election, preparations for the next parliamentary elections are already being made. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), sitting on the Front Bench, seems to be surprised about these facts. If he had bothered to study what has happened in Zimbabwe, he might realise how serious the situation is. The problems are not only bad, but getting worse, and they must be urgently addressed.

As the House knows, I have been talking about Zimbabwe a lot over the past two years, and I have sometimes been criticised for spending too much time on it. I make no apologies for that. Zimbabwe is not, as someone once admonished me, just another African country, on which we should not seek to impose our western values. Zimbabwe has enjoyed democracy and the rule of law. Its people have known prosperity, full stomachs and economic stability. All of that is now lost or under threat.

Nor is Zimbabwe a far-away country of which we know little. It is a country that we know well, and for which we must still feel a sense of responsibility, even if it is only a moral one. We cannot say that it has nothing to do with us and that to seek to interfere smacks of neocolonialism. That is not what the dispossessed black farm workers told me when I met them in the woods outside Harare two years ago, and neither is it what the politicians and the many other victims of Mugabe's brutality told me. They believed that this country had a moral duty to act. They heard the Prime Minister announce as much on one occasion. They feel a sense of betrayal at what they now see as our inactivity.

The simple fact is that, month after month, the situation in Zimbabwe is getting worse. It was bad enough when I was there. I saw some pretty horrifying sights—of ethnic cleansing, political intimidation and food queues. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow)—who cannot be with us today as he is in Darfur—visited Zimbabwe only a few months ago. The situation that he witnessed was far worse even than what I had seen. Quite simply, we are watching the birth of a failed state, the victory of crude despotism and the failure of the international community to respond sufficiently.

I am baffled by the inertia with which the international community has responded to Mugabe's vile regime. The most recent International Crisis Group report appeared on 19 April. It stated that the response has been inadequate and ineffectual at all levels", and that the policies of the US and the EU do not begin to address the roots of the crisis. I repeat to the Foreign Secretary that I am not advocating a military solution. I am asking for the form of international action that the ICG and other bodies are also seeking. I shall come to that a little later.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the nature of the crisis in Zimbabwe, which can best be described as a series of deficits. The first is the democratic deficit. That began with the patently rigged parliamentary election four years ago; then, two years ago, the presidential election was stolen. At the time, the Foreign Secretary admitted that the Government do not recognise the result, or its legitimacy."—[Official Report, 14 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 1035.] There has been a systematic undermining of the principles of free and fair election, and the ironically named Harare principle—as well as the principles of the Southern African Development Community—have been flouted. In the past years, dishonest voter registration has allowed Mugabe effectively to rig the voter register. There has been rigged vote counting, with ballot papers going missing. There has also been voter intimidation and bribery, and the physical persecution and even murder of political opponents.

We now learn that voter registration for next year's elections has begun, without any independent supervision or verification. In one case at least, the sitting Opposition MP was not even told that the registration was happening until after it was completed. Mugabe has announced that he will have no observers in Zimbabwe for the election. The democratic deficit is almost complete.

The next deficit is the rule of law deficit. Many opposition MPs in Zimbabwe have been subject to murder attempts, torture, assaults and arrest. A recent survey of Movement for Democratic Change Members of Parliament found that 42 per cent. claimed to have been assaulted in the past four years—most commonly, as it happens, by the police—while 24 per cent. said that they had survived assassination attempts.

Because of the politicisation of the police and judiciary in Zimbabwe, there is rarely any legal comeback. Despite the immense courage of many Zimbabwean lawyers, the once proud rule of law in Zimbabwe lies in tatters. The independent judiciary used to be one of the pillars of democracy, but it has been severely compromised, and the Bench is now packed with Mugabe supporters. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was adopted before the 2002 elections and it requires journalists to provide detailed information about themselves. If they do not do so, they will not receive a licence for journalism.

The law has been used to close Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, and to arrest people on the charge of "suspicion of journalism". The state now claims a virtual monopoly of written and broadcast media, and foreign correspondents, as we know, are a thing of the past. The Public Order and Security Act restricts freedom of association. The Government in Zimbabwe have used it to stamp out any form of activity or protest by opposition groups. The rule of law has been exchanged in Zimbabwe for the rule of tyranny and the organised mob.

Another deficit is the law and order deficit. Mugabe has skilfully created a society in which his orders to kill, maim and destroy are easily carried out. His private militia—the so-called Green Bombers—are, quite simply, evil. The methods in which they are trained in the special camps to which they are often abducted include systematised violence, organised rape and brutal abuse and humiliation. The first-hand accounts from some former members of the green bombers who have fled to South Africa are chilling.

Then there is the economic and social deficit. Zimbabwe's economy is among the fastest-shrinking in the world. Unemployment has risen to more than 70 per cent. As recently as 1997, Zimbabwe was twice as rich as the median sub-Saharan nation, but now it is crashing. Inflation still rides high at over 440 per cent., gross domestic product has shrunk by one third in five years, and the black-market exchange rate still flourishes, despite legislation to outlaw it. At the official exchange rate, £1 is worth 815 Zimbabwean dollars. On the black market, £1 buys 7,000 Zimbabwean dollars.

Now we hear threats of the wholesale nationalisation of agricultural land, even though current land seizures have already led to the collapse of Zimbabwe's once prosperous agriculture sector, with all the attendant consequences on food production.

There is, of course, the humanitarian deficit. Zimbabwe has lived on food aid since 2001. Last year, 6.5 million people, more than half the population, depended on international help. Mugabe is now refusing help from the UN's World Food Programme. Regime officials say that Zimbabwe will have a bumper maize crop this year of 2.4 million tonnes—more than enough to meet domestic needs. People who believe that will believe anything.

A report from the Zimbabwe vulnerability assessment committee—incidentally, that is a Government body—concludes that 2.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004–05 season. We all know why Mugabe lies. He knows that, by keeping the UN and aid agencies out of Zimbabwe, he can ensure that his regime controls all food aid. Mugabe thinks he can feed his people by doing black-market deals to buy grain and then tell the world that it is home grown.

Donald Anderson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram

I will in a moment, but I want to finish this point.

It is of serious concern that two American companies are in cahoots with Mugabe. Sentry Financial Corporation and Dimon Inc. are involved in the tobacco-for-maize scam. I hope that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) chairs, will investigate that scam as, surprisingly, our Government do not seem to know about it. On 24 June, Baroness Amos told the House of Lords: I am aware of the rumours with respect to Zimbabwe selling tobacco in exchange for maize."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 June 2004; Vol. 662, c. 1345.] The reports are not rumours, though: they are real. At least the US authorities are aware of what is happening, and the US Congress and Treasury are now investigating the two firms involved.

Donald Anderson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing well with his description of the crisis. Is not another reason why President Mugabe and his regime have failed to recognise the existence of the crisis that, if they did so, they would have to recognise the total failure of their programmes?

Mr. Ancram

When I was there, my impression was of a tyranny that was trying to oppress its people and to get the world to avert its gaze. I shall tell the House about one of the things that touched me most. I met some black farm workers who were living in the woods. They were destitute, lacking clothes, food or houses. Their children's schools had been closed. As I left, one said to me, "Please don't let the world forget us." That is at the heart of what we want to make sure that Robert Mugabe does not achieve: he must not make the world forget about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

There are other huge problems in Zimbabwe. AIDS is rife: one third of the population has HIV. The Government's AIDS levy is failing to get through to the front-line services. Hospitals and clinics cannot afford even the most basic of AIDS testing kits.

Sometimes I wonder whether the money is actually being directed to the fight against AIDS. A recent National Audit Office report on the HIV/AIDS strategy of the Department for International Development was highly critical. It found that DFID's country assistance plans do not address the issue of HIV/AIDS consistently and that many of them failed to consider the effect of the epidemic on poverty reduction". I hope that the Minister will address that specific point when he winds up later.

I turn briefly to cricket. We meet on the same day as the International Cricket Council meets to take a final view on the issue. Sometimes I am told that I should not try to bring politics into sport. In a sense, the Foreign Secretary was trying to suggest that that was what I was doing, in his attempt to make political capital out of the debate. I have not tried to bring politics into sport. This is not a question of sport versus politics. It is a question of morality versus money. Given the situation I have described in Zimbabwe, I cannot see how in conscience England's cricketers should be asked to play even one-day internationals in Zimbabwe this autumn. The tests have gone, but we are told that the one-day matches are still on. The Zimbabwe Cricket Union, whose patron—as we have been reminded—is Mugabe, has already played cynical and apparently racist politics with its own team selection. Anything that gives comfort to the ZCU or to Mugabe in terms of sport should be abandoned. The tour should not take place, full stop. The Government should clearly and unequivocally say so, and say so now. Unfortunately, we have once again had only weasel words from Ministers.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

My right hon. Friend has summed up the point very well, but does he recall that for the South African cricket team of 30 years ago, it was the racially biased opposition to the selection of Basil d'Oliveira that led to South African cricket being outlawed and boycotted? It was the racism element that caused that, and now we see racism in the selection of the Zimbabwean team.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. On occasions, I have been told that the issue is purely about sport, but if one listens to the former captain of the Zimbabwean team, Mr. Streak, it is clear the that there is much more to it. The sort of racist and discriminatory behaviour to which my hon. Friend refers has indeed occurred.

The greatest deficit is in the international response. I have to say that it has is been lamentable. For a start, far greater pressure must be brought to bear on President Mbeki of South Africa. He must be told the bald truth that his policy of quiet diplomacy is dead and buried. What happened to his vain promise to President Bush last year that by June 2004 Zimbabwe's problems would be solved? The House will remember that promise. Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad is on record as saying again last week: it is clear that we will not meet the June deadline". He can say that again, because as far as we know no talks are taking place. Mr. Pahad continued: I have no other alternative to quiet diplomacy, so we will continue with quiet diplomacy. The truth is that quiet diplomacy has failed and we should acknowledge that. There are those in South Africa who courageously speak out on the matter, including not least Archbishop Tutu and opposition leader Tony Leon. We should listen closely to what they say and praise them for their courage in saying it.

I have been to New York and asked why the United Nations does not get involved. The response, I have to say, is pathetic. I am fobbed off with the answer that because the Zimbabwe crisis is an internal or domestic problem, the UN cannot get involved—tell that to some 127,000 Zimbabwean refugees who are trying to get into Botswana each month. Is the UN blind to the refugees who flee over the border to Botswana, South Africa and Malawi, bringing economic havoc in their wake? And do the demolition of human rights, ethnic cleansing, or the suggestions of genocide by starvation not concern the UN? Why is it concerned about such problems in Darfur, but not in Zimbabwe? Come to think of it, the UN response has been to put both Zimbabwe and Sudan on the UN Commission for Human Rights. Is it surprising that the people of Zimbabwe feel betrayed?

Then there is the EU and its much-vaunted sanctions, about which we heard much today. In all honesty, I have watched those sanctions in action and they are pretty toothless. The red-carpet treatment that Mugabe received in Paris a year ago was a disgrace. People in Zimbabwe ask about that when we talk about the sanctions working. It was an example of how the EU sanctions are honoured more in the breach than in the observance. That visit totally undermined the credibility of EU sanctions both internationally, and in Zimbabwe. There is a strong suspicion in Zimbabwe that some European member states tacitly wish to support Mugabe. When there is a need comprehensively to strengthen the sanctions, we hear that there are voices in the EU that are arguing that they should be abandoned—so much for a common EU foreign policy.

The EU has a real chance of imposing real pressure on the Mugabe regime When will it accept its moral responsibilities and act effectively? The sad reality is that by the time the EU sanctions come up for review next year—by which time, the Foreign Secretary tells us, he may have listened to further suggestions—Zimbabwe could well have become a failed state, with all the domestic and international implications of that. What defines a failed state? I shall give one definition: In general terms, a state fails when it is unable … to control its territory and guarantee the security of its citizens; to maintain the rule of law, promote human rights and provide effective governance; and to deliver public goods to its population (such as economic growth, education and healthcare). That is a good description of Zimbabwe today, but it is not my definition. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will recognise those words, because he used them in a speech in September 2002. I agree with that definition. He even offered a solution. He said Experience suggests that the prevention of state failure depends on a scarce commodity: international political will. If we are to secure public and international support for action, "we"— I emphasise the word "we"— need to make the case for early engagement much more strongly. I totally agree, so why have the Government failed to act decisively or even to take a firm lead? Why are they reluctant to lead from the front?

Tony Baldry

The international community is making every effort in Africa with the New Partnership for Africa's Development. That is a covenant under which we provide increased development aid in exchange for Africa doing certain things—not least providing peer group review and pressure. None of that has happened yet in relation to Zimbabwe. There comes a point at which we need to make it clear to colleagues in the Commonwealth in Africa that they lave a responsibility and NEPAD cannot be a one-way programme in which we do our part and they do not reciprocate. International pressure on Zimbabwe has to start in Africa itself.

Mr. Ancram

I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I have made the point on several occasions in debates on Zimbabwe that the question of peer assessment of good governance depends on the credibility of those making the assessment. If South Africa and other countries tell us that they believe that what is happening in Zimbabwe is not bad governance, I question the value of their assessments. NEPAD is meant to be a contract by which the G8 provide investment in Africa in return for good governance. I would like to see much more leadership from the G8 in reminding South Africa and other countries that if they wish to benefit from NEPAD it is their responsibility to ensure that good governance returns in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Wyatt

If we cannot achieve what we want through NEPAD—transparency and so on—would it be a solution to have a joint committee of the G8 and NEPAD, so that we could see what happened on the ground?

Mr. Ancram

That is a sensible idea. I shall set out in my concluding remarks some of the things that I think we should be doing and nothing that I shall say is inconsistent with that idea.

The UK appears to have hang-ups about taking a lead. Christopher Dell, the newly nominated next US ambassador to Zimbabwe, has no such hang-ups. He has experience in Kosovo, Mozambique and Angola. Last week, during his ambassadorial nomination hearing, he explained—and I say this with particular reference to what the Foreign Secretary said that I have said about Kosovo— In Kosovo, I witnessed first hand how misrule by one man and his regime in pursuit of narrow political advantage devastated the lives of millions of his citizens, both Albanian and Serb, and I'm proud to have helped in the effort to bring about Slobodan Milosevic's departure from power by democratic means.

Donald Anderson

By military intervention?

Mr. Ancram

By democratic means. I do now know where the right hon. Gentleman gets his definitions from, but that did not strike me as military intervention.

What Christopher Dell said is a clear message to Zimbabwe about America's position, which we would do well to emulate, instead of using the weasel words that we have heard again today.

David Winnick

Is it not most unlikely that, without the United States, any action could have been taken in Kosovo? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, as a genuine friend of the new South Africa that has emerged from apartheid, I am deeply disappointed that it has not taken action. I speak as one who, with all my Labour colleagues, always wanted the destruction of apartheid. It is in South Africa's interests to act, and it is extremely disappointing that it has not done so.

Mr. Ancram

I agree. So much of what was achieved with the ending of apartheid, and in the 10 years since South Africa returned to democracy, is being undermined by the position that it is taking in relation to Zimbabwe. The legacy of Nelson Mandela, for whom I too have tremendous admiration, is being tarnished by the attitude now being taken to Zimbabwe.

What would we do? I have a five-point plan, which I believe should now be urgently considered and pursued. First—to return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) was saying—we must, if necessary by invoking the benefits of good governance in return for NEPAD aid, persuade South Africa and the other Southern African Development Community countries to insist on the SADC norms for the elections in March 2005. We must be prepared to criticise South Africa's culpable inaction in the face of Mugabe's evil.

Secondly, the United Nations should join with SADC to produce free and fair parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe by supporting any SADC benchmarks that are developed to determine whether the process is credible. I want to see SADC and United Nations teams in Zimbabwe as soon as possible to observe the entire electoral process. United Nations personnel on the ground must be demonstratively effective in their monitoring of the elections and in their humanitarian advocacy. Mugabe must never again be allowed to select which countries can send observers.

Thirdly, pressure should be brought to bear, not only by the EU but by the United States, to repeal the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and amend the Electoral Act.

Fourthly, there is an increasingly urgent need for EU and US-targeted sanctions to be revised and strengthened, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said in an intervention, to include the family members and business associates of key ZANU-PF figures. Freezing the assets of those who bankroll Mugabe would have an immediate and dramatic effect.

Fifthly and finally, it is time the British Government tabled a resolution to send United Nations observers to Zimbabwe to monitor the fair distribution of food. This would at least internationalise the crisis. The Foreign Secretary argues, as he has in the past, that we would never get a resolution through the Security Council: perhaps not, at the first attempt—but he could then persist by, as he said, making the case for engagement more strongly, and shaming those who vote against such a resolution, until he succeeds. One thing is certain above all else: if he does not try, he will never succeed.

For too long Zimbabwe has been the crisis from which the world has averted its gaze. South Africa has murmured about quiet diplomacy on the one hand, and feted Mugabe on the other. The EU has imposed targeted sanctions, which have then been more honoured in the breach than the observance, and the British Government have wrung their hands and walked by on the other side. The time of walking by is over. Zimbabwe cries out for international action, and we should take the lead in making sure that it gets it.

2.24 pm
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) made a powerful speech. Certainly the description of the ills inflicted on Zimbabwe by its present leadership was powerful; much less powerful was the prescription. Each one of his five points can be examined and found to be vacuous or ineffective.

We have already said that there is no prospect of putting the subject on the agenda for the United Nations. There is the precedent of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where the Africans work as a bloc and prevent any such move. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) rightly said, that must harm the fulfilment of the New Partnership for Africa's Development contract and the region as a whole. South Africa is losing out massively, perhaps by as much as £1 billion, and up to 3 million refugees are crossing the Limpopo border. I am not saying that we should do nothing, but we should not pretend that we can do things that we cannot, or invest money and effort in ineffective action that may make us feel better, but will not help the people of Zimbabwe in any way.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of the United Nations, but is not what he has just said a savage indictment of the UN? Although it is so transparently obvious to the entire world that a whole country is being destroyed, the United Nations turns its gaze away and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said, walks by on the other side? What does that say about the United Nations?

Donald Anderson

I agree.

Mr. Howarth

What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it then?

Donald Anderson

We work within the multilateral framework and we try to persuade, as we have done already—but to pretend that the United Nations is likely to intervene is moonshine.

I shall now set out the involvement of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Zimbabwe. The conclusions that the all-party Committee, containing the three main parties in the House, reached were unanimous and we tried to be as realistic and powerful as we could.

First, I shall make a personal comment. I visited Zimbabwe several times in the 1980s. I helped form, and was vice-president of, AWEPAA, the Association of West European Parliamentarians for Action against Apartheid. I confess now that I was blinded—perhaps very few, apart from the hon. Member for Macclesfield(Sir Nicholas Winterton), were not—in relation to actions such as those in Matabeleland. Perhaps we were dazzled by the hopes at that time. Zimbabwe seemed to be economically stable, was exporting food to its neighbours—now it has to use its scarce resources to import food from South Africa and Zambia—and there were high hopes of positive political development. My response to the Zimbabwe tragedy is anger at what has been inflicted on a cheerful and welcoming people, and frustration at what we in the international community have been able to do to confront that tragedy.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has maintained a close scrutiny of developments in Zimbabwe, and of UK policy, for several years. We have been involved in an ongoing inquiry since 2001 and have produced three reports in the current Parliament and taken evidence on a number of occasions. Whenever possible, we have met visiting Zimbabwean leaders—obviously, mainly opposition leaders. When we visited South Africa in February, we also considered the way in which that country could have a positive impact on Zimbabwe, and made several comments and recommendations to that end.

Our unanimous conclusions in our several reports include a condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the seizure of farms, the disregard for human rights and the corrupt elections. We have generally supported the actions of the UK Government in refusing to accept the results of the fraudulent 2002 elections, and in working within the Commonwealth, the UN and other multilateral agencies to put pressure on President Mugabe. We have urged the international community, and the UK in particular, to continue providing aid to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe and to ensure, as far as possible, that it is not diverted for political ends, as will be the real danger with the parliamentary elections next spring.

Mr. Wyatt

I confess that I have not read all three reports—I shall get a smack on the hand for that. When my right hon. Friend was taking evidence, was he able to take confidential advice from MI6? Are there surveillance pictures and photographs that show that food is being diverted, and have we ever presented them in the public domain?

Donald Anderson

We did not. We had an ongoing debate with the Government on our access to intelligence, but I suspect that Zimbabwe is not one of the priorities for the intelligence agency.

In our report numbed HC813, we concluded that "Zimbabwe deserves better". On the EU and Zimbabwe, we unanimously said that President Chirac's invitation of President Mugabe to the conference in Paris the day after the EU sanctions expired was "deeply regrettable". We were highly critical of the hard negotiations over the renewal of sanctions in 2003 and said that the UK Government needed to be more robust with France. Fortunately, such horse-trading was not repeated during this year's sanction renewals.

On the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe, we said that our Government were right to call for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. We said that Zimbabwe should not be readmitted to the Commonwealth without a very substantial and verifiable improvement in its human rights record and major steps to re-establish democracy". On the future, we said that the United Kingdom Government must continue to act multilaterally with Zimbabwe through the United Nations and our African allies. We should not act unilaterally because of our colonial history and President Mugabe's ability to twist any actions that we might take and use them against us. We said that the United Kingdom must be ready to respond speedily to a change of regime in Harare and, of course, that we cannot assume that President Mugabe will carry on for ever.

We published a report on South Africa and Zimbabwe earlier this year. We said that our Government and the South African Government have not seen eye to eye on the issue for some time. They share the same ambition—a return to democracy in Zimbabwe and its respect for human rights—but the South African Government have pursued a policy of quiet diplomacy that has produced no proper results. They have refused to criticise President Mugabe and have even gone out of their way to support him, as we saw at the Commonwealth conference and from the strong letter that President Mbeki sent afterwards, which led to Zimbabwe's walk out from the Commonwealth.

Tony Baldry

The Foreign Affairs Committee said: We conclude that if Zimbabwe's neighbours were fully to assume their responsibilities—for example, by imposing targeted non-trade sanctions similar to those already imposed by the EU, by some Commonwealth countries and by the United States—Mugabe's regime would be further isolated, his opponents would be encouraged and his days would be numbered. How does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that our Commonwealth colleagues and others might take a policy of non-trade sanctions by neighbours forward? He has not specifically mentioned that powerful recommendation in his speech.

Donald Anderson

It is clear that Zimbabwe's neighbours respond very differently. For example, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia has always acted as a cheerleader for President Mugabe. Indeed, alarming reports suggest that he might want to follow President Mugabe down the path of the expropriation of farms, which would not only damage Namibia, but have a deleterious effect on perceptions of southern Africa as a whole. Of course, the bravest of Zimbabwe's neighbours have been Botswana and Malawi, to an extent. However, there is no consensus among its neighbours on the use of effective pressure, despite the harm that is being done. The greatest pressure can come only from its neighbours.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

I have put this question to a Foreign Office Minister during Question Time. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that restricting or cutting off electricity supplies from South Africa to Zimbabwe might have an impact on Mr. Mugabe's Administration?

Donald Anderson

It is clear that South Africa and its parastatal are owed much money by Zimbabwe, which is heavily dependent on South Africa for its energy supplies. Turning off the electricity would cause chaos, and the danger for South Africa would be that even more refugees would stream over the border. Perhaps the most powerful argument made by the politicians and others in South Africa to whom we spoke was that we in Europe could be fairly sanguine about the situation, but that they had to live alongside Zimbabwe. If the country imploded further, it would have awful effects on South Africa's economy and the refugee stream, even though up to 3 million refugees from Zimbabwe have already crossed the Limpopo into South Africa.

We were given other reasons in South Africa for the country's continued support of, or failure to deal with, the regime in Zimbabwe. We were told about regional solidarity and that it was the practice of African leaders not to criticise each other. We heard about their shared history of fighting together in a struggle, although ZANU-PF was linked with the Pan Africanist Conference at first, and was not linked with the African National Congress until much later. We were told that, on land reform, Mugabe was seen as the only African leader actively trying to reverse the colonial legacy. We were told that the double standards of the west were tough on Mugabe, but not on such issues as third-world debt. Of course, we must also take note of the popularity of President Mugabe in the ANC. Additionally, we must consider the challenge to Mugabe from Morgan Tsvangirai, a trade union leader, and the possible implications for South Africa of a trade union leader from the Congress of South African Trade Unions challenging the South African Government. However, perhaps the most powerful argument is the domestic implications for South Africa of the implosion of Zimbabwe.

We were also told that South Africa's views might have been shaped by its experience at the end of apartheid when two implacably opposed sides were brought together in private negotiations to build a consensus. Some South Africans honestly believe that the same situation can be brought about in Zimbabwe. There are rumours of secret talks between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change being sponsored by the South African Government, but I know of no serious evidence for that. It is true that South Africa possesses many possible levers, but it is reluctant to use them because of the danger of the further collapse of Zimbabwe into anarchy. Additionally, we are told that the west overestimates the influence that South Africa has on Mugabe.

The Committee concluded that South Africa is acting in the manner it sincerely believes to be the most effective and the most likely to bring about change, and that it shares the same goal as the United Kingdom. We urged our Government to work closely with South Africa to achieve a solution for Zimbabwe. We returned with a greater understanding of the South African Government's policies, but we were unconvinced that our interlocutors fully appreciated the damage done by Zimbabwe's actions to perceptions of South Africa, the South African economy and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which the hon. Member for Banbury mentioned.

The South African Development Community has played a disappointing role on the resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe. It has put no pressure whatsoever on President Mugabe to reform, and could play a more useful role. As has already been said, Zimbabwe's neighbours are not assuming their responsibilities or putting pressure on the country.

The 2003 session of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees saw South Africa coordinating an African group of members to block all debate on Zimbabwe. Such misplaced solidarity can only harm Africa as a whole, and it devalues the UNHCR.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes effectively chronicled the way in which the situation has deteriorated since we produced our report. There have been greater problems with the economy, government corruption, inflation and unemployment. Direct foreign investment in Zimbabwe has declined by 99 per cent. over the past three years. There is a chronic shortage of foreign exchange and last December, the International Monetary Fund initiated procedures for Zimbabwe's compulsory withdrawal from it.

The human cost is appalling. Life expectancy is 34 for men and 33 for women. Officially, about a third of the adult population is HIV-positive. President Mugabe has forecast a bumper harvest this year, but Mr. James Morris, director general of the World Food Programme, has expressed astonishment at that, saying that an increase from 980,000 tonnes to 2.8 million tonnes would be quite unprecedented. Obviously, the regime is not prepared to admit the crisis, as that would be an acceptance of the total failure of its agricultural policies. Political deterioration has already been mentioned, and there is a danger of the problem spreading to neighbouring countries including, worryingly, Namibia.

The image of Zimbabwe affects South Africa and the region as a whole. I have commented on the UN's role, and there is no serious prospect of the issue being taken up by the Security Council. To argue otherwise would be misleading. The Select Committee urges the Government to work closely with South Africa to achieve a solution, and we are pleased that the Prime Minister has made Africa a key theme not only of our presidency of the European Union in the second half of next year but of our presidency of the G8. In conclusion, it is sometimes said that individuals cannot make a mark in today's societies, but southern Africa disproves that. On one side of the Limpopo, President Mugabe has control, on the other side, President Mandela was once in power. One exalted his people, the other debases his. The people of Zimbabwe, the region and, indeed, Africa as a whole are the losers.

2.42 pm
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)

It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), and I pay tribute to him and his colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as their reports are important to the House and always inform our debates.

In the past few years, we have debated Zimbabwe more than a dozen times in Westminster Hall, and we welcome the opportunity to put our views on the record in the main Chamber fiber. Those debates and today's contributions have documented the terrible decline of a once wonderful country, which, we hope, will enjoy a return to good times. It is hard to comprehend that a country that could once feed itself and many others is suffering from desperate food shortages, but that does not make them any less serious. Some factors are beyond anyone's control, but the heaviest responsibility falls on Robert Mugabe and his henchmen, who have wrecked Zimbabwe's agriculture and undermined external efforts to alleviate the problem. Land reform, which was agreed on independence, has been undermined, and land grabs by state decree and violence have further wrecked the economy. The process has reached its logical conclusion with the announcement that all land will be nationalised and existing landowners must apply for leaseback arrangements.

All those tragedies play into a desperate economic situation. Zimbabwe has the unpleasant distinction of having the world's fastest shrinking economy. Unemployment is rampant, and on some estimates income per capita is less than $250 per annum. Inflation is astronomical, and it was ironic to hear Gideon Gono, on his recent visit to the United Kingdom, talk with pride about his intention to reduce it to below 200 per cent.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Gideon Gono. Why was that gentleman, who is closely associated with Mr. Mugabe, allowed to come to this country?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, to which I shall return in due course.

Mr. Gono and other members of the regime have taken it upon themselves to talk up the Zimbabwean economy, but opposition leaders argue that although statistics are rapidly outdated they always get worse. We need therefore not believe the reassurances of Mr. Mugabe and his team. The economy's underlying weakness is exacerbated by money laundering and corruption, and individuals' economic capability is horribly ruined by the spread of HIV/AIDS. UN experts estimate that a quarter to a third of adults are HIV-positive; 1.5 million people are infected, more than half of them women. It addition, it is estimated that the consequences affect as many as 165,000 children under 15.

Other African countries suffer from those terrible problems, but Zimbabwe's predicament is homemade, as state control and corruption are at the heart of the disasters facing the country. Where that strategy is not sufficient for the regime to retain control, every dictator's trick is used to limit freedoms and achieve ZANU-PF's aims, including undermining press freedom, which was highlighted by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), limiting the independence of the judiciary, and the many well documented attacks on the opposition. In addition to legal and quasi-legal measures, the Government make wholesale use of the army and militias to do their dirty work. Amnesty International documented more than 1,000 cases of torture in its most recent human rights report, and drew particular attention to the horrendous practice of extra-judicial killings by the military.

Everything is geared towards the maintenance of power by President Robert Mugabe. Few believe that he won a free or fair election last time, and many rightly fear that he has already undermined the prospects for a proper parliamentary election next year. There are extremely worrying reports that in many constituencies voter registration was completed in the past few weeks, as the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes said. In many instances, registration took place on a single day following the publication of a newspaper notice. As has been said, Zimbabwean MPs themselves were unaware of what was going on.

It has been suggested that progress has been made with plans for a revision of electoral law. For example, there will be transparent ballot boxes to prevent them from being stuffed with votes. There will be local counts, and the ballot will take place on a single day, which ought to be an improvement on the rational counts that took place over a number of days in which boxes mysteriously disappeared or materialised en route to the count. However, if we are tempted to view that as progress, we can divine Mugabe's true intentions from his decision to forbid the attendance of election observers from countries that are outside his circle of friends. That is part of a consistent undermining of democracy, further illustrated by the harassment of opposition politicians and the politically motivated trials of the leader of the MDC.

As Zimbabwe has crumbled, the rest of the world has been powerless, and we must consider whether that is by choice or design. Like many others who have spoken this afternoon, I believe that the heaviest responsibility lies with the neighbouring states, particularly South Africa. It is clear that with the necessary will President Mbeki could influence the position in Zimbabwe. It is a complete mystery why he chooses not to do so. Whatever the source of his loyalty to Robert Mugabe, surely the suffering of the Zimbabwean people and the devastation in Zimbabwe should encourage him to act.

More broadly, the New Partnership for Africa's Development boasts of a peer review mechanism at the centre of its activities. All recent meetings of that group have failed to take on the instance of Zimbabwe. Likewise, the African Union, a welcome development for the whole of that continent, is to have a summit of its leaders in the next few days. From the draft agenda that the African Union is touting, it does not look as though the issue of Zimbabwe will be tackled.

Andrew Selous

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that were a white regime in Zimbabwe inflicting on its people what is currently going on, there would certainly be far more action nationally and internationally to do something about it, but where blacks do that to other blacks, the world seems to lose interest? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a case of horrendous double standards?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman makes his point. We in Britain and in the west must be a wee bit cautious about preaching to others about double standards. I am trying to make a speech in a colour-blind way, if I may.

Beyond the regional players who ought to have an influence on Zimbabwe, the record has been extremely patchy. Perhaps the only small success has been in the Commonwealth, whose suspension of Zimbabwe led to great concern in that country and a great deal of hurt to the president himself. The fact that the suspension was maintained 12 months later was very welcome. The fact that Zimbabwe then chose to leave the Commonwealth shows the strength of the action that had been taken.

We have always supported the European Union's travel ban, arms embargo and the embargo on equipment that might be used for internal repression. We also believe that the assets freeze is an important feature of those sanctions. We support the fact that the sanctions were renewed in March this year, but what is the outcome of these measures so far? Precious little, it seems. I should be interested to hear from the Minister when he replies what assessment he and his colleagues have made of the effectiveness of the embargoes. If he could provide the information, the House would find it useful to know what assets, if any, have been frozen here in the United Kingdom.

The Foreign Secretary spoke, properly, about the extension of the travel ban, but we should not lose sight of the modesty of the numbers involved. The numbers affected have risen only slightly, from 79 to 95, which contrasts with New Zealand, which has a list of 133. To take up the point made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the list in New Zealand includes the name of Gideon Gono, who has such a central role in the Zimbabwean economy, yet was allowed to travel through the UK in the middle of June, attending events at the high commission or embassy, according to one's preference, in Birmingham and Oxford, quite apart from the Financial Times interview that I mentioned earlier.

The limitations of the existing travel ban are clear. We support the use of targeted sanctions but find it hard to believe that only 95 people in that country can be linked closely enough to the regime to be forbidden EU travel. Likewise, it surely makes a mockery of the system, such as it is, when the families of those already named are still free to travel to the UK, although I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary said that his decision not to argue for the extension of the ban to children was a finely judged one. I hope he will listen to the concerns expressed in the House today.

The cricket tour is a source of proper concern. I shall make some brief points in passing. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches do not believe that any tour should go ahead to Zimbabwe in the current circumstances. Despite all the difficulties, we welcome the England and Wales Cricket Board's confirmation that players who, after reflection and as a matter of conscience, do not wish to travel because of the situation there will not be forced to do so. We also accept that the Government cannot and should not ban English and Welsh participation in the tour. That would set a dangerous precedent.

It is clear that the International Cricket Council must be engaged and challenged to rethink its rules on permissible grounds for cancelling cricket tours. That will not be easy, but given the cross-party consensus at least on this small aspect of the problem and on the unacceptability of the existing situation, there should be scope for a cross-party initiative and approach to the ICC on behalf of all the parties represented in the House.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman may not know, but apparently the president of the ICC, Mr. Ehsan Mani, has said that England has promised to fulfil its tour this November in Zimbabwe. Has he any comment to make on that?

Mr. Moore

I am not sure that the announcement that the ECB will fulfil its tour changes much. Everyone in the House wishes that that tour would not go ahead, but our Government should not be in the business of banning tours and instructing sportsmen and women where they can pursue their sport.

Away from the cricket fields, the build-up to next year's elections in Zimbabwe places the onus on the international community to build and maintain the pressure on the Mugabe regime. The UK is in a key position, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East. We have the imminent presidency of the G8 and will have the presidency of the EU in the period likely to follow the Zimbabwean elections. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has put his credibility on the line with the creation of the Africa Commission, which we have supported.

Recognising the primary responsibilities of the southern African countries, we should use those diplomatic opportunities next year to persuade them of their lead role in tackling Zimbabwe. Beyond that, we should not constantly fall hook, line and sinker for the post-colonial guilt trip. We should extend our targeted sanctions. Here I take issue with the Foreign Secretary. We believe that such is the scale of the problem represented by Zimbabwe that we should seek to force the pace in the United Nations. I accept that at present there is precious little prospect of getting a resolution through the Security Council, but we should not shrink from forcing the issue and revealing who is standing in our way. If we do not start, we cannot hope to succeed.

The issue of Zimbabwe remains one of the greatest foreign policy challenges facing this country and many others. It is hard to imagine the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. We owe it to them to do everything possible to change the conditions in which they live.

2.59 pm
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), as we have spent many hours debating the subject in Westminster Hall over the past two years. I, too, welcome the opportunity to hold a debate on the Floor of the House.

I shall not go over the detail of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Many hon. Members have reported on that. We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and others who have visited Zimbabwe. I visited the country about a year ago. We have seen that decline in Zimbabwe affecting every area of national life. I saw for myself the way in which it was affecting ordinary people. I also saw the black farm workers who had nowhere to live, not being fed by anyone, in complete despair, to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. I saw how the medical care had collapsed, the massive unemployment and the rampant inflation. All of that stems from one single cause. It is all very well saying that there are many other related problems in Africa, but the single root of the chaos that we are seeing now in that country is the determination of Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF to cling on to power at any price. That is why the focus of today's debate has to be on the need for free and fair elections. Zimbabweans need and deserve the right to elect a Government of their own choice and to be able to vote out those who fail them.

How do we get those free and fair elections? We saw what happened in 2000 when the people courageously rejected Mugabe's proposed constitutional changes in the referendum. Having been an election observer myself in Angola, I am probably one of those whom Mugabe was referring to when he said last week at the summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations held in Mozambique, that he would not allow former imperialists to monitor forthcoming parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe.

For anyone concerned with human rights and democracy, that vow to bar election observers or to choose where they come from, is deeply disturbing, but it is predictable, and it is what we have all come to expect from him. Far more disturbing is that when he told the assembled leaders of the ACP nations, "We will invite all of you, but we will not allow erstwhile imperialists to come and judge our election," there was sustained applause. Mozambi que's President Chissano told a news conference after the summit that Mugabe's message had elicited a lot of sympathy. Sadly—I am genuinely sad—that reaction is predictable from so many of the African leaders.

None of us should be under any illusions about the cunning and expertise of Robert Mugabe. He is certainly not a fool when it comes to manipulating world opinion or singing a tune that will please his audience. Members will perhaps know how different his promises and rhetoric are when he addresses an international audience in English compared with his pronouncements in Shona for his audiences in the rural areas of Zimbabwe that ZANU-PF has turned into no-go areas. There are no-go areas not only for the opposition MDC, but even for the humanitarian missions of the UN. We must say clearly today that we are dealing with one of the most ruthlessly callous regimes imaginable.

The Government of Zimbabwe have refused to co-operate with the UN crop assessment team, and, days after the officials went into the fields to begin to calculate the annual food harvest, ordered it to stop its work. The order blocked UN and EU preparations to provide the food aid that it is reckoned will be needed for more than 5 million people later in the year. The cancellation was ordered because another year of serious food shortages looms after the drastic fall in production caused by the Government's land seizures. I saw for myself the empty grain silos and fields, and the desolate workers.

Mugabe's Government did not want the UN team gathering figures that would show harvests falling far short of their massively inflated claims. The Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, said that the UN team was in the country without his approval, although The Guardian reported having seen a letter dated 30 March from his own ministry inviting the UN World Food Programme officials to estimate the country's food aid needs. Three weeks ago, as has already been said, James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, who is also head of the World Food Programme, had to call off a planned visit to Zimbabwe because neither Mugabe nor a single Government Minister was prepared to see him.

All that behaviour shows that there is only one answer to getting rid of Mugabe and solving the problems of Zimbabwe, and that is for the international community to act and to act decisively. My friend, Eliza Mudzuri, who many Members present have met when he was here recently and who was elected the executive mayor of Harare in 2002 by a massive majority, even in what were flawed elections, is visiting the United Nations in New York. One of the messages that he hopes to get across is that it is no good just saying that the people of Zimbabwe must find a solution to their own problems. His own removal from office shows that where the people of Zimbabwe make a democratic choice that threatens the regime, the democratic will of the people is simply overridden.

The solution to the Zimbabwe crisis now has to lie in a partnership between the people of Zimbabwe and the international community. Here again, I want to express my real anger at the way in which South Africa still takes the lead in blocking action on investigation into human rights by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. How much longer can the entire membership of the AU or the ACP nations be hoodwinked into falling in behind President Mbeki? The mood among the young activists inside Zimbabwe is growing more and more restive. They feel that the only way of making the international community take the crisis in Zimbabwe seriously is to resort to violence. The strength of the opposition in Zimbabwe and of civil society is that they have been peaceful. They have been battered and tortured, but they have been peaceful. Such violence among the people, particularly the younger elements, must be avoided at all costs.

After four years of failed promises and failed deadlines, it is no longer possible to see the South African Government as any sort of impartial broker of a solution to the crisis. We remember the weasel words resorted to by the South African observer mission that President Mbeki sent to monitor the presidential elections in 2002. From all it had seen, it was blatantly clear, as the observer mission's leader said, that he could not describe the elections as free and fair, but he managed to give the deeply flawed process his bosses' required seal of approval by claiming that they were legitimate. Legitimacy in this context, of course, is simply a legal nicety.

The MDC recently issued a document called "Restore", which sets out clearly its minimum standards for the restoration of genuine democratic elections in Zimbabwe. The principles are based on the Southern African Development Community's parliamentary forum election norms and standards. It is not asking for anything new or special; it is simply asking for what the SADC has agreed. In any normal country, no one would bat an eyelid at what it is demanding. But it is a tragedy that today, only months away from parliamentary elections, most Zimbabweans see them as an almost impossible dream. For all the fine words and communiqués of the ACP nations and the SADC, they show no signs of calling the Government of Zimbabwe to task on those very basic requirements.

Those requirements include measures such as restoring the rule of law, ending all political violence, disbanding the youth militias, ensuring that police and security forces are impartial and non-partisan in conducting their duties, and establishing an independent and impartial electoral dispute court to hear and swiftly resolve all election-related disputes. All the messages that have come from Mugabe in the last week are just a smokescreen; none of the changes is really about genuinely making a free and fair election possible.

The MDC's second demand is for a restoration of basic rights and freedoms; to revoke those aspects of the Public Order and Security Act that curtail the right of citizens to move, assemble and speak freely, measures that are even more severe than those that existed under Ian Smith. Often people ask why, if people in Zimbabwe feel so strongly, they are not out on the streets. But when they go out on the streets they are beaten and shot, and we do not hear about it because very few journalists there are allowed to report freely. Women in Zimbabwe have been leading a great struggle at the grass roots level in all sorts of ways to keep their families together. I and other Members have had the privilege of meeting Jenny Williams from an organisation called Women of Zimbabwe Arise. Over 70 of its members were arrested, detained and beaten up just because they went on a peaceful demonstration in Bulawayo. While such things are happening there is absolutely no chance of a free and fair election, and we need an independent electoral commission. We must restore public confidence in the electoral process. We have seen with the recent by-elections that it is almost impossible for the MDC to hold a proper campaign because the youth militia are sent in weeks before a by-election and people are not allowed to move about or do anything. I saw such practices myself in last year's council elections. In order to stop people submitting papers to allow them to stand in those elections, the town hall, as we would call it, was ring-fenced by ZANU-PF militia. No one could submit their papers, and the election was therefore declared a great victory for ZANU-PF. We must ensure that that situation changes.

All the non-state-controlled daily newspapers and broadcasts have been closed. Without a free press, it is almost impossible to hold a free and fair election. Even with election observers drawn from Westminster, which is unlikely, or Namibia, the opposition cannot win the election if the people of Zimbabwe are denied a forum in which to exchange ideas and read about what is happening in their country. Many hon. Members have campaigned on behalf of The Daily News, and its staff and journalists, many of whom have become our friends, our heroes. Its closure was a nail in the coffin of free speech for many Zimbabweans, and although many of the journalists were killed or tortured, the world did not hear about it.

Like other hon. Members, I want to mention cricket, which we, as a country, can do something about without rocking the boat or upsetting Mbeki. Cricket is close to my heart, because on 14 September the Zimbabwean cricket team may play at the Oval in Lambeth, which is home to many Zimbabweans, who will be out in their hundreds to protest if the match goes ahead—I do not want it to go ahead.

The extent to which cricket in Zimbabwe is used as a tool by the ZANU-PF regime has been misunderstood and underestimated. Mugabe's lackeys are trying to impose political control over team selection and other aspects of Zimbabwean cricket. It is clear that the policy is about the domination and elimination of all opposition to the Government-backed board, and the silencing of dissent is instrumental in that—people who are likely to protest about the regime do not get picked. Mugabe is the patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union; cricket teams are politically vetted; and the regime clearly sees the maintenance of sporting links with the outside world as an important seal of approval. There are few enough ways in which British people can show our solidarity with the majority of Zimbabweans, who loathe Mugabe and all he stands for. To welcome his politically selected team here, and to see ZCU officials, who collaborate with the oppressors, hobnobbing at the Oval is more than I can bear thinking about.

Ministers have the power to refuse or revoke visas, and such a simple step is the least we can do to show solidarity with the pro-democracy activists in Zimbabwe. The British high commission in Harare refuses visas to Zimbabweans every day. Recently, two journalists travelling as guests of British Airways were refused visas because it was felt that they might not return to Zimbabwe. Let us not hear any more nonsense that we cannot refuse visas. We can simply say, "We will not give you visas. You are not coming to play cricket in this country in the name of a dictator who has stolen an election."

Mr. Bellingham

Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be easy to add some of the henchmen who run the Zimbabwe cricket board on to the list of people against whom smart sanctions have already been applied?

Kate Hoey

One or two people in the ZCU should be subject to the same restrictions as the small number of people who are already on the list. I have no time for those who claim that such a move would play into Mugabe's hands and make the dispute one between Mugabe and Britain, because the current situation is a bilateral dispute between freedom and oppression.

Mr. Wyatt

Has my hon. Friend taken into account the journalist Mihir Bose, who was born in Bombay and is now domiciled in London? When he went to Zimbabwe to report on cricket, he was stopped and had to return to the UK. He says that that is categorical proof that the cricket team is a ZANU-PF instrument. It is no longer possible for our Government to sit on the fence.

Kate Hoey

I agree with my hon. Friend. Even if Mihir Bose did not possess the technical press card to cover that sporting event, journalists who arrive late can usually obtain such documents, but Mihir Bose was not given the slightest bit of support by the ZCU. When well-known cricket journalists arrive in any other country, they are helped and supported. The Mugabe regime was silly to take such action, because, until that point, Mihir Bose had said that the Zimbabwe cricket team should tour. When Mihir Bose returned from Zimbabwe, he made it clear that no one, particularly cricketers, should have any truck with the regime. I want an answer from tho Minister on cricket, and it is not good enough to say "We cannot do it." We stop people obtaining visas all the time, sometimes for spurious reasons, and I am sure that we can find a reason to stop visas in this case.

I shall address a point raised by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. The Government cannot ban cricket and say, "You are not going to tour. We are taking your passports off you", but nobody has asked for that. We are asking the Government and the England and Wales Cricket Board to get together and clearly state, "We are not touring, and we are telling the International Cricket Council that we are not touring. We do not want Zimbabwean cricketers to come here." We should follow that simple, straightforward policy.

Many of my constituents are poor. and, through their taxes, they pay to feed millions of people in what was once the bread-basket of Africa. I am not surprised that some of them ask why they should pay for food aid to a country that uses force to prevent skilled farm workers from cultivating some of the most productive land in Africa. It should be a condition that all food aid we provide to Zimbabwe, directly or via the European Union, is distributed only by agencies operating entirely independently of the Zimbabwean Government. To those who say, "That means ordinary Zimbabweans will suffer", I say that ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering already. Zimbabweans would rather that the crisis were moved on, because it must come to an end. We are postponing a crisis by continuing to allow aid to go in while not making it clear that it should not be used for electioneering purposes and bribery.

As was mentioned earlier, more must be made of the link between development aid from this country and the stance on good governance and human rights of nations in the region. Inward investment to the region is never likely to pick up while sores such as the Zimbabwe crisis are allowed to fester. We must help African nations to take responsibility for what happens in Africa, and we will not get them to take responsibility while we continue to bail them out whenever a problem arises. The result is that development efforts supported by our aid programme are constantly undermined and Africa's long-term goal of self-sufficiency is compromised.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development foresaw a link between aid from the developed world and the delivery of good governance and human rights by African nations. We need to hold African nations to that not only as part of NEPAD, but simply as a basic precondition for providing aid. We need to spell out in no uncertain terms that applause for Mugabe's wild rants and expressions of solidarity with his regime will mean an end to support for development projects. A solid basis of democracy, free elections and free expression are the fundamental requirements for sustainable development, and there is no point in pouring in the aid. Unless there is support for those principles from the region, we are simply pouring our money down the drain and my constituents are paying for that. Even if they are not willing to embrace the higher moral principles at stake, surely straightforward self-interest in terms of aid, investment and economic stability should persuade the leaders of the SADC countries that Mugabe must be shunned.

An abiding memory of my visit to Zimbabwe is the feeling of fear and violence that has become a normal part of everyday life. As I heard someone say the other day, people ask what is wrong when the police do not beat them up. With torture and brutality having been meted out on such a scale, there is almost no need to use it any more; many of the people are already cowed into submission.

In March this year, I hosted a meeting here with other Members to present a report issued by the Zimbabwe Institute, which is based in South Africa and which found that 50 of the Movement for Democratic Change's 59 MPs and 28 of its parliamentary candidates had personally experienced human rights abuses in the past three years at the hands of the security services and supporters. That is just the tip of the iceberg. If an elected representative can be beaten up, tortured, disappeared or even killed, how can the ordinary person in the suburbs or rural areas believe that they can possibly stand up to this regime?

That is why for free and fair elections to take place there needs to be a clear undertaking that human rights will be guaranteed by the international community not only during an election campaign, but for a good six to nine months in advance, and for long afterwards. People are genuinely afraid that Mugabe and his henchmen will resort to violent reprisals even after they lose power. We need to plan for that now; otherwise there can be no hope of a lasting and peaceful transition to democracy and reconstruction in Zimbabwe.

Only yesterday, Zimbabwe's Parliament passed new detention laws. They are the most repressive in the country's history, yet Mugabe is dressing them up as part of his so-called campaign against corruption. The laws extend the amount of time prisoners can be detained under security legislation without an appearance in court from 48 hours to more than three weeks. Many hon. Members will have read the gruesome accounts of what can happen to people who are detained even for brief periods by the Zimbabwean police. These new measures do not bode well for the safety of opposition activists during the forthcoming election campaign.

I want to mention Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Ministers made it clear that they felt powerless to prevent him from coming into the country because he was not on the EU list, which is designed to exclude those engaged in abuse of human rights. His role as private banker and provider of funds both for the regime and for the Mugabes' private shopping trips is now well known, but Ministers may not be aware of his involvement in the victimisation of students at the university of Zimbabwe. Student activists have been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe, and they have long borne the brunt of the brutality handed out by state security agents. Security guards at the university of Zimbabwe are better paid than the police. Many graduate upwards from the ranks of the police and can be every bit as brutal as the special units that specialise in repression. As chairman of the university council, Gideon Gono was complicit in the banning of students who dared to raise their voices against the repression of the state and their violent treatment by the university security guards. Given Mr. Gono's record in the abuse of human rights and freedom of expression at the university of Zimbabwe, I appeal to the Minister to give an undertaking that next time he applies for a visa to come here on a fundraising trip for the Zimbabwe regime his request will be turned down.

Like the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, what struck me most about the people I met in Zimbabwe—members of civil society, torture victims, displaced farm workers, white farmers, and many others, including Morgan Tsvangirai—was that when they discovered who I was and where I had come from, they said over and over again, "Don't let people forget us, and please tell people how it is." This is what is happening, and we need to do more.

3.24 pm
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who has taken a courageous and principled stand on the issue of Zimbabwe over many years. She put her life in danger by going there a year ago to find out for herself precisely what the situation is.

As many hon. Members know, I have taken a deep interest in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Rhodesia over very many years—in fact, for all the 33 years in which I have sat in the House of Commons. I say quite openly that I have a dream, to use the words of Martin Luther King. I am determined to see a democratic and peaceful Zimbabwe in the central part of central southern Africa. I want to see peace, stability and prosperity restored to the people of Zimbabwe. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) in his place, as he chairs the all-party group on Zimbabwe with great distinction and puts a huge effort into the meetings and into obtaining people who have a positive contribution to make to the subject of Zimbabwe.

Interestingly, in 1979 I visited Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, as it was then, as a guest of the interim Government of Bishop Muzorewa. While I was there, Bishop Muzorewa and his Government team—including the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, the Honourable Ian Douglas Smith; General Walls and his team of Ministers; and Mr. Sithole, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe and Chief Chirau—flew to the United Kingdom to take part in the Lancaster house talks. My visit was to look at the progress that was being made in education and health provision for the whole population, and to look at the way in which development was taking place to provide better farming and agriculture for all the people of the country.

As has been said by many hon. Members, huge progress was being made at that time, and it continued for a few years. Tremendous progress was made in reform of and investment in education, health, infrastructure and housing. That set Zimbabwe—Rhodesia-now Zimbabwe—apart from many other countries. It was prosperous; many people know that it was the bread basket of central and southern Africa, supplying food to many surrounding countries.

Perhaps, however, it would be appropriate to come up to date. On 25 June, in the Cape Times, a South African newspaper, Basildon Peta reported from Johannesburg: In an unprecedented move, dozens of the ruling ZANU-PF Members of Parliament walked out of Parliament (Harare) in protest against a bill that empowers police to detain corruption suspects for up to a month"— the hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to that— without trial. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change MPs remained in their seats. This effectively thwarted plans to bulldoze the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill through Parliament. ZANU-PF normally rubber-stamp Robert Mugabe's proposed legislation. ZANU-PF MPs fear that if they allow the regulations to become permanent law, many would be targeted as Mugabe seeks to win the hearts and minds of the urban electorate through his much-vaunted anti-corruption crusade. That shows not only the deep problems that the ordinary people and Opposition Members in that country encounter but the concern that Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party feels.

Meanwhile, as some hon. Members know, Mr. Roy Bennett, the popular Member of Parliament for Chimanimani, dared to raise in Parliament the brutal military seizure of his prosperous farm, Charleswood, in spite of several court orders upholding his ownership of the farm. His employees—hundreds of black Zimbabweans—were driven out through violence, rape and torture. After prolonged, repeated and sustained taunts and provocation by Government Members of Parliament, he cracked, lost his cool and pushed one of his persecutors. That is precisely what Government Members of Parliament and others wanted. Mr. Bennett has been pursued by a country-wide hue and cry to drive him out of his country—Zimbabwe—completely. A mob of some 3,000 howled for his blood through Harare, roughing up white Zimbabweans on its way to wrecking the headquarters of the Opposition party in the capital.

As previous speakers have said, 90 per cent. of Opposition Members of Parliament and officials have reported harassment, torture and burning of homes. Helen Anderson, whom some of us know, has published accounts of the ravages and tortures that Mugabe's so-called green bombers inflicted. Last month, the Zimbabwe Government closed a third independent newspaper—The Tribune—and they control almost all the printed and electronic media. They already vet telephone conversations.

As the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey knows, the Zimbabwean Government are now legislating to control internet communication and thus suppress all criticism that may go beyond its tightly controlled borders. The extent to which internet control is technologically practicable is questionable, but it spreads fear and stifles communication. People in Zimbabwe think twice before writing freely to friends who remain in the country lest they endanger friends and relatives who may be suspected or accused of having contacts in the supposedly hostile western world.

As some of us know, the huge Kondozi farm at Odzi, on which thousands—I mean thousands—in Manicaland depend for their livelihoods, has also been seized. Apparently, the Minister for Agriculture coveted the income of the farm, which sold produce to supermarkets in South Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom. Its seizure left thousands of employees destitute in the winter bush without food or shelter.

I regret to say that commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe is at a turning point. Of the 4,500 commercial farmers who were on the land in 2000, probably fewer than 500 are now fully or partly operational. So far, some 6,897 farms with a total area of almost 12 million hectares have been gazetted for resettlement.

The Commercial Farmers Union offers a note of hope in saying that it believes that there is a strong positive element within ZANU-PF that wants a return to productivity in agriculture and in the economy as a whole. However, the union is equally aware that a strong element is intent on continuing the third chimurenga, in its literal sense, and probably extending it beyond its land-based origins to embrace other sectors of society and of the Zimbabwean economy.

The Zimbabwe Government have also legislated to prohibit sales of maize, the staple food, to anyone except the official grain marketing board. They claim that the country is about to reap a bumper harvest and therefore needs no outside help. Of course, the Government turned out the three teams from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme, but not before they had established that, despite more favourable weather conditions, the harvest would be worse even that that of last year. After the seizure of the commercial farms, surely the need for food aid remains if millions are not to suffer hunger, malnutrition and, in many cases, slow death through hunger-enhanced AIDS. The percentage of people in Zimbabwe with AIDS has already been highlighted in this debate. The mayor of Mutare attempted to buy maize for the destitute through his Christmas cheer fund, but was refused by the grain marketing board.

The Zimbabwe Government are, as we know, quietly importing maize and evidently hope that, with their own stockpile, they will be able to feed their own supporters through the crucial general election period next March. No provision at all appears to have been made for the minority Matabele people, who largely support the Opposition. They vividly remember Mugabe's massacres of their people in the early 1980s by the North Korean-trained fifth brigade. I think it was the Foreign Secretary himself who pointed out that some 20,000 Matabele people lost their lives at that time. I pay tribute to the BBC and its journalist, Fergal Keane, for the "Panorama" programme that they produced a little while ago to highlight what had happened at that time, along with the fact that the British Government—yes, I have to say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, a Conservative Government—failed to do anything about it. This country should be ashamed of its lack of action at that time.

In pursuit of the objectives relating to farming that I have mentioned, the Commercial Farmers Union and most of the citizens of Zimbabwe expect that people's individual, constitutional and property rights should not be violated or abused by the Government. Similarly, the principles on which commercial agriculture is founded should not be abandoned if the future productivity of the agriculture sector is to match or exceed that of the past, which is what the country needs if it is to regain its position and prosperity, and feed its own people.

The principles of security of tenure, law and order, and viability and sustainability are internationally recognised, and were historically the basis for the thriving national economy of Zimbabwe. If Zimbabwe's economy is to be revitalised, this vital set of principles should be adhered to, and their application extended over the years to embrace as much of the productive farmland of the country as possible.

There is no time to describe the creeping destruction of Zimbabwe's schools, both public and private, or the decay of medical and hospital services. With high unemployment currently running at some 70 per cent. and hyperinflation that has risen as high as 600 per cent., it is hardly surprising that official figures published by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe suggest that 3.4 million people—about a quarter of the population—have fled Mr. Mugabe's rule. About 1.1 million Zimbabweans live in the United Kingdom; another 1.2 million have fled to South Africa, and more are going. Another 100,000 have taken refuge in Australia, almost on the other side of the world, and a further million are scattered throughout other parts of the world.

It is not surprising that Mr. Gideon Gono, head of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, has toured this country to persuade the Zimbabwean community to use a new Government service when they send money home to their relatives, rather than the black market means that are currently available. That, of course, will inflate the Mugabe Government's cash-starved foreign exchange coffers, but, surprisingly, it appears that he legally evaded the UK sanctions intended to keep high-profile supporters of Mugabe's regime out of this country. The Times on 11 June quoted the South African Sunday Times as alleging that Mr. Gono is the controller of a slush fund in the state-owned Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, which has dealt illegally in foreign currency and handed out funds to the ruling party bosses, including the Mugabe family.

Reports that Zimbabwe is buying fighter jets from China while her people face starvation are denied by China—I dealt with this question on the Floor of the House a week or two ago, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it. Does he have any evidence that Zimbabwe is buying fighter aircraft and military transport trucks from the People's Republic of China? Certainly, the drying-up of European sources of military spares through sanctions is inevitably driving Zimbabwe to look east and elsewhere for help, although it faces no military threat from any quarter whatsoever.

Will the Minister comment on a document that, it is said, his Department is investigating, which is dated 8 June and headed, "Solution to the White Problem"? The proposal is to drive out most of Zimbabwe's remaining 50,000 whites before next year's parliamentary elections. The document was reportedly drawn up by advisers to the director general of Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation, and leaked to the British embassy in Harare and a newspaper. It is said to propose a phoney threat of white sabotage, and staged support for an imaginary British and opposition-sponsored terrorist movement. It is alleged that such a programme of ethnic cleansing would produce an unparalleled exodus of terrified white Zimbabweans, but that it would achieve little reaction from Britain or anywhere else. In that situation, the opposition in Zimbabwe would collapse, and Mr. Mugabe would be left in complete control.

Will the Minister comment on the so-called "Zimbabwean Community in the UK", which is allegedly a Birmingham-based asylum fraud linked to the Mugabe regime? I ask him to examine it seriously. Police and immigration officers are investigating an organisation set up with national lottery money to help immigrants, after claims that it forged documents and provided false life histories for 1,000 Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Detectives have also reportedly been given information allegedly showing that Albert Matapo and his wife Grace, founders of the "Zimbabwean Community in the UK", have provided national insurance numbers and false passports to help immigrants get jobs.

Finally, does the Minister recall the visit last year of somebody for whom I have the highest regard and respect, the heroic Zimbabwean archbishop, Pius Ncube, who visited the UK to draw attention to Mr. Mugabe's crimes against humanity, and against the people and interests of his country? Sadly, the impact of the visit of this distinguished cleric was limited, as he was subject to a media blackout, apparently at the request—I say this with much regret and some reservation—of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. It appears that the bishops' overseas development agency did not want him to achieve the publicity that his visit merited, because, apparently, CAFOD unfortunately includes many former admirers of Mr. Robert Mugabe. It is a matter of some regret that our own Prime Minister, who shows considerable interest in Africa and is clearly deeply concerned about the problems in Zimbabwe, was not able to find time in his busy diary to meet the archbishop.

I pay credit to the Prime Minister, however, for telling me that I was free to take members of the Zimbabwean opposition to see him at No. 10 Downing street. I shall take advantage of that in due course, when opposition members are able to obtain visas to come to this country and present their case. The hon. Member for Vauxhall spoke of the problems that they encountered when trying to leave Zimbabwe. I hope that the Prime Minister will be in a position to meet not just me, but those representatives.

Zimbabwe is only one of the United Kingdom's overseas problems, but Britain has a unique and unprecedented responsibility. It was this Parliament, under a Conservative Government, that granted Zimbabwe independence and brought Robert Mugabe to power. I remind the House that a United Kingdom Government promised, to outlaw all intimidation during the 1980 election; but then—again, I am deeply ashamed of this—the Government and their representatives proceeded to ignore hundreds of affidavits testifying to the sustained intimidation that finally ensured Mr. Mugabe's outright victory.

Despite the recommendations of the acting governor, Christopher Soames—who suggested to the Foreign Secretary at the time that certain areas should be taken out of the election because of the levels of intimidation—the Foreign Secretary refused to allow the exclusion of those areas. As a result, Robert Mugabe came to power.

Mr. Bellingham

That was Peter Carrington.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

Yes, it was Lord Carrington. I know what happened for a fact, because the chief executive of Cheshire county council, Sir John Boynton, was returning officer for the election in Zimbabwe. Many representatives of the Cheshire constabulary were also there to monitor the election, and ensure that it was free and fair. The views that they expressed on their return to this country suggested that in many areas it was far from free and fair.

We cannot allow things to go on as they are. Some action must be taken. I suggested to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee with great distinction, that switching off electricity might be a way of concentrating the minds of the people of Zimbabwe and perhaps securing action to bring about the removal of Mr. Robert Mugabe. I do not want to bring any additional suffering to the already long-suffering people of that country, but I believe that, given our special responsibility, we must do something to save them from Mugabe and bring about his removal.

3.48 pm
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Foreign Secretary. As I am supposed to be at a meeting of Borden parish council early this evening to discuss a problem relating to speeding in Oad street, I may not be here at 5.30 pm for the winding-up speeches—and my own speech will be amazingly quick.

I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) for his kind comments about my chairmanship of the all-party committee. I can tell him that it is impossible to ban the internet, although I will not say why. It is possible for Mugabe to do many things, and he will close down some parts of the internet; but he will not be able to close all of it down, which is a relief.

I want to make one or two comments following on from the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). There is a cultural deficit, which he said nothing about. Although Hitler burned the books in the libraries and Stalin and Khrushchev banned music, or allowed only a certain type of music or art that they liked, we should remember that out of that came such things as the fantastic works of Solzhenitsyn and many fine musical compositions, as well as samizdat, the system by which photocopied works were smuggled out. In Zimbabwe, however, there is an absolute cultural deficit: there is no music, art or literature. That is a terrible shame.

I took on the founding of the all-party group because I have constituents who have farms who had come to me in tears to ask me what on earth I was going to do. A reasonably good constituency MP tries to take some action when that happens, and it seemed to me that we needed a focus in the House.

A point has been made about the United Nations. I have received a comment on that, which says that it is "unlikely" that the subject of Zimbabwe would be brought to the Security Council, unless the members of the Council perceived the situation in Zimbabwe as a serious threat to the stability of neighbouring countries. It is said that the number of Zimbabweans moving out of Zimbabwe to South Africa, Namibia and Malawi is a problem, but I can tell the House that President Mbeki's brother, who lectured the all-party group about a month ago, said that his country welcomes the coming of the Zimbabweans because they include dentists, nurses, doctors, farmers, skilled plumbers and builders who are making a phenomenal difference to the economy in South Africa. We have to bear that in mind, coming from a man who has close knowledge of those matters in South Africa. Only if there were a large exodus of refugees to Malawi especially its northern part, would there be a serious problem for the area.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster are keen to hold our Government to account over Iraq, and rightly so; however, I wish that they would also consider their statements, comments and positions on Zimbabwe. They have a particular opportunity, even now at this late stage, to come together to make a statement to President Mugabe, who was trained in a Jesuit college, apparently pretends to be a Catholic of some sort and has caused huge problems to Archbishop Ncube. Why could not the Christian churches come together to go to Zimbabwe and produce an official report? Why can they not discuss the matter? It seems improbable that they could not do something about the position. We need them to stand up and be counted.

Some 20 years ago, I was a head of history at a school, where I taught world history. I used to teach on the Foreign Office and give a lecture called, "The Foreign Office: a disaster abroad." I used to tell my students, "Look at Palestine on the one hand and, on the other, the creation of modern Israel. Look at the Saudis: we backed the wrong family. Look at Persia: blow it, we backed the wrong family. Look at South Africa: for far too long, we backed the Afrikaners. We even got it wrong in Rhodesia." There were many more examples.

If I were giving that lesson today, I would be discussing a real dilemma that we are not being honest about and on which we are not taking any sort of leadership. Since 11 September, the world has changed. If we look at the institutions that pretend to represent us in the world—the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation—we see that they are by and large run by the west. They skew votes and use vetoes. It is very hard for a country to get its own way in the WTO unless America wants it to and the UN is skewed in our favour. The UN was born out of the first world war through the League of Nations, but the other institutions were born out of the second world war. Since 11 September, I would say, they are almost redundant, and we have not challenged the institutions that purport to represent us. It is no wonder that the African bloc uses the United Nations to block us continually over this issue. Would not we do the same? After all, we created the system. They are doing their damnedest to make sure that it does nothing.

We ask why the UN cannot do anything, but what or who could? Let us consider the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe is not in the Commonwealth, so what on earth can that organisation do? President Obasanjo is supposed to be going to Zimbabwe, but he does not seem to have gone there very often since last December. In reality, the Commonwealth is powerless. It might be good for the Commonwealth games and the odd Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, but what does it really do?

In a sense, we have left only the EU and the G8, and we should focus on the latter. It is terrible to think that, in a year's time, we might still be confronting this issue, but next year we will hold the presidency of both the G8 and the EU. It is not too late to put Zimbabwe on the agenda for the G8. It is a scar on our conscience and no one can disagree about how bad the situation is. It is the Palestine of Africa and what is going on there is terrible. I hope that the Minister will think about using the G8 as a way to solve this problem.

I wonder whether we should make use of the technology that enables intelligence surveillance from space. I have three prisons in my constituency. I have also discovered that pictures are taken of fields to check whether rape or wheat is being grown so that that information can be checked against the common agricultural policy regulations. In the same way, it would be possible to check whether Mugabe is telling the truth about the food. Why do we not take such pictures and put them into the public domain? What would be wrong with that? Why do we not expose the hypocrisy and allow people to see the evidence?

The Secretary of State said earlier that certain things are going on in readiness for a post-Mugabe situation, but what things? What is going on? All economists agree that, if Mugabe were to die next year or to stand down—what a miracle that would be—it would take Zimbabwe at least 10 years to recover economically. It is no good waiting for next year or the year after. We need to act now and to corral the goodness inside and outside Zimbabwe in order to put in place the necessary systems, investment and training. It surely is not beyond the wit of Britain to take that lead. I want far greater investment in the people of Zimbabwe who are in this country to prepare and train them for when they return.

Sport has obviously been a big part of my life. I once played on the wing for England; fortunately, it was the left wing. [Interruption.] I am glad somebody got that one. The International Cricket Council is registered here but, cleverly, it is also registered in Monte Carlo for tax purposes. I employed a solicitor and a Queen's counsel to try to get the ICC's constitution from Lords, but I was refused five times. That happened because the constitution contains clauses on the aims and objectives of international cricket. I see that the Minister is looking at me, so perhaps I might ask him a favour. So that I can stop paying money to my solicitor and QC, will he ask Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC, to send him the aims and objectives and the complete constitution of the ICC?

The Football Association of Wales had a problem recently, involving the late registration of a Russian player, and it went to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne Why is the case of Zimbabwe not being argued out in the only international court of law for port? Let us take Zimbabwe there, get the constitution and issue the writs. The Government could do that, and we could stand up and be counted in that way, instead of being so lily-livered about sport as a whole. I hope that the Minister will address this issue.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

Given that the hon. Gentleman has paid so much money for legal advice, perhaps I might offer him some for nothing. The Select Committees of this House have the power to send for witnesses and papers. He might seek to persuade one of them to send for the constitution of the ICC.

Mr. Wyatt

That is a cracking good idea. I will do that, as well as ask the Minister, in case he is not supplied with it.

I have to put this carefully, but I am an expert in laundered money—in the sense that I try to find out where laundered money goes. Some of us have been to Zurich and spent a whole day at UBS looking into where Mugabe's money might be. May I tell the Minister that we spent a most interesting day with UBS? We went there because the bank had the money of Abacha of Nigeria: $5.8 billion of his money was deposited, eventually, at UBS in Zurich.

We talk about numbers and hear of more than 75 people being banned from coming here and now it is 90-odd. However, I know that UBS had more than 800 leads about Mugabe's money, traced through 800 different people and companies. If we really think that banning 75 or 90 or 93 or 101 is going to help, let me stress that we should go and see what the diligent forensic lawyers and other people in UBS have done. Thus my second request to the Government is for a one-day conference on laundered money in Zimbabwe. I have spent some time with the Financial Services Authority, three of whose people came to see me. I have spent some time with our security people. I have talked to our high commission in Malaysia, because President Mugabe takes so many trips to Kuala Lumpur and he may be using money there. As far as we understand it, it is all cash and very difficult to trace.

In the light of some of our successes in respect of some African leaders—I am thinking of Hastings Banda, Moi or Abacha, whom I have already mentioned—when billions and billions of dollars were being laundered, I cannot believe there is no prospect of the same success with Mugabe.

I am just wondering out loud, but if I were Mugabe, I would loan my army to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for as long as I could because I would get paid for that army. However, I am going to get paid in diamonds. Where are those diamonds? Who trades those diamonds in Holland? How do they get there? We need to do more work on laundered money. Is it true that Mugabe traded the diamonds for oil from Libya? Now that we have a convention and good trading relationships with Libya, did the Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary ever ask whether the oil was being turned off or whether the diamonds were being swapped? Is it true that there is now no more oil? If there is no more oil, where are the diamonds? Where are they being traded? That is the key.

I have talked to Transparency International, as the Minister knows, because we have had this debate before. People are beginning to think that the money is being traded through Cairo. I do not have the evidence for that, but it is something that is being said on the street. Can we bring the banks together to sign the international convention on money laundering? We really can do more and it is up to the G8 to do it. I would ask us to do much more than just say that we are trying.

There are one or two things that I would like us to do. I would like us to take that wretched honorary knighthood away from Mugabe because it besmirches the whole honours system and is a disgrace. I do not understand whether nothing has happened because the monarch does not like the impact on the Commonwealth: she is Queen of the Commonwealth and it embarrasses her. I would have thought that even the royal family would understand that Mugabe's knighthood has to go—and it could go tomorrow. Would it not be wonderful if it did? I know that it is just a small token, but it is one of those things that I think we should get rid of.

When I worked for the African National Congress in the 80s, I worked for 10 years raising funds here in London as a part-timer interested in South Africa. Eventually, with the help of Donald Woods and one or two others, we decided to send an eminent person to visit South Africa. That was the turn of the screw for the Afrikaans Government. I know that we have asked this before and that we have said that we must let President Obasanjo do this, but it seems to me that we are not getting very far. Is it not possible to get, say, a Maori archbishop from New Zealand together with a black Catholic priest from Boston? Is it beyond the wit of man to find eminent people in the world who have no political attachment to Great Britain and to make an eminent visit? If Mugabe bans them, he bans them, but at least we should make the effort, present the argument and get the people together. The Archbishops of Canterbury and of Westminster could do that for us, and I hope that we will have another go.

People who are close to foreign affairs know that, in matters such as this, we always turn to Norway for intervention. That has happened in connection with the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the problems in Palestine. Have we tried Norway on Zimbabwe? Is there a way for us to open talks through an independent country that has huge integrity, and which people trust?

If talks are under way, I take all that back, yet my sense is that we have lost the urgency to do anything about Zimbabwe. However, Norway represents a chance—as would Canada, although the fact that it is a Commonwealth nation might pose a problem. Could not Norway help the G8 countries convene a meeting to look at a post-Mugabe society in Zimbabwe? That meeting could plot some of the brickwork—I hate to say road map—that would be needed. It could try to work out what could be done, how much might be needed, and how we might trade with Zimbabwe. As I have said before, we cannot stand still and do nothing.

4.6 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). Given everything that he has done in the cause of helping the people of Zimbabwe, perhaps the right thing to do would be to transfer Mugabe's knighthood to him. That would amount to the just deserts that we would all like to accord him.

This debate has been extremely interesting. I have not been able to participate in these matters as often as I should like, but I want to pay tribute to all those who have kept the torch alight. They have tried to draw to the attention of the House and the people of this country the terrible evil of the regime over which Robert Mugabe currently presides. In that respect, I want to single out the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who have been trenchant and consistent in their campaigning.

My interest arises from the fact that I visited the country then called Rhodesia in 1967, when I was at university. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) was also present, and we went as guests of the Anglo-Rhodesian Society. No one who visited the country at the time could fail to recognise how fantastic it was. It was stunningly beautiful and had so much potential: the country was on the go and on the move. Of course it had its political problems, and I dare say that Labour and Conservative Members might disagree about the politics of that time, but the strong impression was that a dialogue was under way. There was much more freedom of expression in Rhodesia than there is today in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

In 1957, Harold Macmillan spoke about the winds of change sweeping through Africa, but he could not have foreseen the veritable tempest that was to follow. The ordered and increasingly prosperous societies left behind as the colonial powers scuttled out of Africa gave way to an appalling wave of violence and economic incompetence. The carefully crafted, Westminster-style constitutional arrangements were soon torn up as the democratic legacy gave way to dictatorship, corruption—and the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey was very eloquent about that—chaos and the abandonment of concern for human rights.

What I have described happened in Nigeria, Uganda, the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana—and, of course, in Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia. That is an appalling catalogue of failures.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Was not some of the violence that occurred due to the post-colonial tendency of the west and the east to use Africa as a surrogate for their conflict?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. What he describes was a factor in what happened, but I do not think that it was the only one. We know that communist countries, and the Soviet Union in particular, sought to undermine western interests in those African countries. Many of those who came to power in the newly independent countries received training from the Soviet Union, so it was hardly surprising that they sought to implement Stalinist-style regimes—although at the time the rest of the world was quietly giving up the communist way of life.

Mr. Mullin

What about Mobutu? Was he a Soviet agent?

Mr. Howarth

I do not suggest that the entire continent was subverted by the Soviet Union: I was merely agreeing with the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Perhaps the Minister should have a word with his hon. Friend.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

As my hon. Friend considers the history of Zimbabwe—Rhodesia, as it used to be—in the 1960s and before, will he comment on what President Gumede from Matabele, who was President when Bishop Muzorewa was Prime Minister, said to me—"If the western world would allow us to sort out our own problems, we would get it right. As it is, we're going to get the wrong answer."?

Mr. Howarth

Those were prophetic words. Life was very difficult at the time and a strong anti-colonialist stance was popular, especially among Labour Members. I do not entirely blame the colonial powers for wishing to remove themselves from Africa, because that was the way things were going. I merely make the point that those societies were ordered, and what followed was a disappointment. I was an international banker before I became an MP and I saw at first hand the appalling corruption in Nigeria. It was desperate to see so much money being siphoned off and denied to the people. Nigeria had so much going for it, including tremendous agricultural and industrial potential,but it was all squandered.

One country that has so far survived the storm is South Africa. It owes its survival in large measure to the personality and strength of one truly remarkable man—Nelson Mandela. I probably would not have said that 15 years ago. In fact, I freely admit that I would not have said it, but I do now. He has set a magnificent example, and it is a great shame that it has not been followed as widely in the rest of Africa as I would wish. Thankfully, some countries that have suffered lately are showing signs of improvement.

Today's debate has been characterised by a consensus across the Chamber about the level of evil of the Mugabe regime, and the violence and abuse that it visits on its own people. I shall not repeat that catalogue, because my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has described it. The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and other hon. Members also set out the problems.

I do not know how many other hon. Members have heard Alastair Leithead's recent broadcasts for the BBC about life inside Zimbabwe. He has obviously taken some risks to make them, but those who have spoken to him have taken even greater risks. He has lifted the veil and no one can still be in any doubt about the brutal nature of the regime. That nature is encapsulated by the words of the Foreign Affairs Committee in a report on Zimbabwe. It refers to the Mugabe regime's use of torture, beatings, rape and starvation against its own people, and the threat which it poses to the prosperity and stability of southern Africa". What an indictment of a country from our Foreign Affairs Committee.

Alastair Leithead's reports make the point that those who are suffering most are the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. We know that the white farmers are suffering: they are being beaten and dispossessed of farms in which they, and their families before them, have invested their entire lives to grow food not only for the people of Zimbabwe but for the rest of southern Africa. They have had a terrible time—but things are even worse for the ordinary Zimbabweans.

As the Archbishop of Bulawayo said: They"— that is, the Government of Zimbabwe— have a plan here to starve people to death for political ends—to get everyone aligned to their party at all costs, which is absolutely diabolical and vicious". I referred earlier to the remark by David Coulthard that in the recent by-election at Lupane, those who did not vote for ZANU-PF did not get the food. Such behaviour is disgusting. An aid worker says: Children are dying from starvation. We had children fainting and not able to even walk to get food as they were too weak. This country has been brought to its knees and it is slowly dying. All we are doing is holding our finger in the dam trying to stop the final disaster—but it's coming". There is incontrovertible evidence that Zimbabwe is a country where the people are crying out for help. Why should we tolerate that? There are three reasons why we should not. First, this is our concern. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, we have historic ties with Zimbabwe. As the colonial power, we handed over a country in which our citizens continued to play a part in both Government and the economy, and thousands of our kith and kin—to use that old expression—remain there. The Government have seen it right to intervene in Sierra Leone and the Congo, so I find it curious that Mugabe is allowed to get away with what amounts to genocide and the destruction of his entire country.

Secondly, there is a steady exodus of asylum seekers. We have heard about the people streaming out into the surrounding countries. I dare say that, as the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said, many of those are qualified people who will be well received in the neighbouring countries, but I must also point out that whereas in 1994 there were 55 applications for asylum from Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom, in the last four years there have been 14,000. People are streaming out of the country. Only recently, in my Aldershot constituency, I met a Zimbabwean applying to stay in the United Kingdom, and I have just been able to write and tell him that he will be able to stay. This country has an interest, because if the result of Mugabe's tyranny is that all those people are streaming out not only into the surrounding countries but into the United Kingdom, that is a matter of concern for us.

Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall also said, we are paying for all that. Our constituents are paying for the rather futile attempts to help the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) said in the debate in Westminster Hall on 9 March: the Department for International Development has given the country £62 million in humanitarian assistance since the crisis began in 2001, and it provides further funds to help tackle HIV/ AIDS"—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 9 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 387WH.] That is a lot of British taxpayers' money going into that country.

The Foreign Secretary said earlier from the Dispatch Box that once democracy had been restored we would be paying even more to put things right—and by then, the country will be in ruins. I believe that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said that that would take 10 years even if we could put things right today, so if things changed in two years' time, how long would it take to restore the country to normality?

It is clear that we must do something. The Foreign Secretary said that we had to avoid "playing into Mugabe's hands" by pitching ourselves against the rest of the world, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes rightly said from the Front Bench, in this case, quiet diplomacy has failed.

It is an indictment of other countries that they are unwilling to support the United Kingdom in concerted action to save the poor people of Zimbabwe when what is happening to them is transparently obvious. It must be in the interests of the neighbouring countries to join us in taking action.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) said that it was clear that South Africa had a great deal to lose from the complete implosion of South Africa, and that is true. Perhaps skilled people are currently well received by neighbouring countries, but if Zimbabwe continues to implode, a stream of people without such qualifications will develop, which will become those countries' problem. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), but in the spirit of consensus that is clearly breaking out in the Chamber today, I concur that we ought to give things a try. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes is to be congratulated on his five-point action plan to try to get something done. We owe it to the people of Zimbabwe, both black and white, to end the tyranny of President Mugabe's Government.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the cricket. The Foreign Secretary said grandly that it would be quite improper for the Government to intervene and that the private sporting body should make the decision on the matter. Those of us who are concerned about the problem, such as the hon. Member for Vauxhall, might like to take a leaf out of the Leader of the House's book. When he was masquerading as a Liberal, he brought about the Government intervention that stopped the South African cricket tour of 1970 by threatening to flash mirrors in batsmen's eyes and a load of other measures that were then called "direct action". I set up something called the Hain prosecution fund, so I am intimately familiar with the matter. Given that the Leader of the House was able to push the then Government into action, I am sure that he will be able to give advice on how we may be able to prevail on the Government to take proper action on the cricket tour.

I wish to raise a further issue in my capacity as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Overseas Service Pensioners Association. The Minister knows that we have a longstanding interest in the plight of the public servants who stayed on in Zimbabwe after the handover of power that followed the Lancaster house agreement in 1979 and 1980. I associate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) with my comments. He is unable to be in the Chamber because he is engaged in important "warfare" work elsewhere in the country, but I know that he strongly supports the cause.

Some 1,200 people in this country should be in receipt of pensions from the Government of Zimbabwe. The pensions dried up in February 2003 and those people are seriously suffering. Even if they were paid, given the rate of inflation in Zimbabwe about which we have heard, such money that they would receive would not compensate them properly for a lifetime of public service to the people of Rhodesia and then the people of Zimbabwe. I am sorry that the Foreign Office has written to say that it has no duty of care or responsibility for those people who are genuinely suffering. I put it to the Minister and the House that if those people had not agreed to stay on and act as public servants to ensure that there was continuity of government and proper administration of the country following the handover of power, things might have been very different because the country could have been handed over to people without the qualifications or experience to run it. We owe a debt of gratitude to those public servants for what they did.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the police and many other public servants who stayed on after the unilateral declaration of independence remained loyal to the Crown and built up pension rights? Now, however, everything has been lost.

Mr. Howarth

Indeed. I make no apology for raising the matter, as it is unfortunate that the Government, who accept that they have a duty to provide food aid to men, women and children who are being starved by Mugabe, do not think that they have a duty to people on whom they were dependent for delivering the agreement struck at Lancaster house. Even if a trust was not implied—the Foreign Office rejects that argument—Her Majesty's Government were the legal Government at the time of the handover to Zimbabwe and, as the holder of pension contributions, owe those people a duty of care worth much more than just the remittance of those pensions. My noble Friend Lord Trefgarne wrote to the then Government on 20 December 1979, referring to "full safeguards and remittability", but remittability is only part of the issue of the safeguarding of pensions.

The Government owe these people a debt of honour. It would not cost a huge amount, but if they accept that they have a duty to the victims of Mugabe's terror regime, I hope that they will step up to the mark and accept that they have a duty to discharge towards people who did not work for profit in the private sector but were public servants who sought to serve the people of Zimbabwe and played a critical role during the transition. That debt ought to be repaid by the Government.

4.26 pm
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon) (Lab)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to convey to the House my constituents' concerns about Zimbabwe, where the situation is appalling, as Members on both sides of the House have said. There are worsening attacks on press freedom and horrific human rights abuses directed at ordinary members of the democratic opposition, who should be able to challenge the regime. We have heard worrying statistics that 90 per cent. of opposition MPs have been subject to human rights abuses, 16 per cent. have been tortured, and three have died after being assaulted.

We might hope to look forward to next year's parliamentary elections, but the prospects are not good, as by-elections in April and May clearly showed that conditions in the country are not conducive to free and fair elections. If there is anything that we can do either as parliamentarians or by applying ministerial pressure we should do so to make sure that in those elections people enjoy the right to express their views. The international community does not yet have the powers to represent ordinary people. Members will be aware that people in Zimbabwe do not support what is going on. It is for Africa to deal with the problem but, distressingly, it lacks the political will to do so at a time when it is at the forefront of many international debates. African countries would raise objections if the issue were raised at the UN Security Council, so there is a genuine test for the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the new Commission for Africa. If we cannot focus on turning the situation around in Zimbabwe, UN resolutions and other procedures should be adopted to protect ordinary people.

I recognise that the Government have taken action on Zimbabwe. It is clear that our food and humanitarian aid is keeping many people alive in that country, and we are the biggest cash donor. I should like to push for more aid to and support for Zimbabwe. I should like to call on the Government to do more and to set a timetable to spend 0.7 per cent. of our income on international aid, but I can see why Zimbabwe does not make a good case for that. I understand why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development wants to spend money only on humanitarian aid there. To do more might be seen as support for the Mugabe regime. However, there is no reason why we should not set a timetable to achieve the goal of spending 0.7 per cent. of our income on international aid. Unfortunately, there is so much poverty in the world and so much that we could do that there is a clear case for us to do so.

For Zimbabwe, we need to concentrate on providing food aid and helping the AIDS victims, which I am pleased the Government are doing, particularly looking after the 700,000 AIDS orphans. I am pleased also that we have done more to support those who are bravely trying to stand up to the Mugabe regime—the trade unionists, lawyers and civil rights activists. When representatives of those people from Zimbabwe were here in Central Lobby, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development met them and spoke to them. They very much appreciated his presence.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the fact that we give asylum to those persecuted by Mugabe. Yes, we do give them asylum, but as constituency MPs we all know of such people who would like to have their family members join them in the UK, but they cannot. That gives the lie to the claims made about how easy it is to come to this country, and shows how difficult that is, which is not the impression that one gains from most of our newspapers. The study of individual cases would make clear the asylum and immigration policies that we run.

I am pleased that, working with the European Union, we have imposed restrictions, particularly the travel ban and assets freeze, on Mugabe and some of his close colleagues. That supports the case for working with the EU on such issues. The more international support we can get for those policies, the greater the impact we will eventually have on Zimbabwe. If we adopted an isolationist stance, we would not achieve as much.

I am concerned about the general position. My work with heavily indebted poor countries leads me to deal with a number of neighbours of Zimbabwe. Through those contacts I hear of the plight of ordinary people there. Other hon. Members have mentioned that members of the Zimbabwean regime say that food aid is not needed, yet according to non-governmental organisations, including the Zimbabwe vulnerability assessment committee, an estimated 2.3 million people will need food aid this year. How can those such as Mugabe, supposedly representing his people, say that everything is fine, when he knows that by doing so he will delay the arrival of food aid, should it be needed? It seems that it will be much needed.

I turn to the reasons why we should do more with our international partners. When we had a visit from the Zimbabwe high commissioner I met him and some of his colleagues to express concern about the horrific human rights abuses taking place in Zimbabwe. I was appalled by the response that we got. Every criticism that we, as parliamentarians, made of the Zimbabwean regime was flung back in our faces, as though every problem in Zimbabwe was a result of its colonial history and of what British Governments in the past had done. Even when we said that, for all the wrongs of colonialism, there was no way that one could associate the torture and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe now with its colonial history, they did not listen. That brought home to me how vulnerable Britain is in terms of leading the protest on Zimbabwe. I could see how the Mugabe regime might relish some of our criticism and want to use it as ammunition in their own country, and how Mugabe might say, "This is the big old colonial power coming back to have another go at my people, but I, the great ruler of Zimbabwe, will stand up for you." That is a real and huge danger. I was disappointed that there were not more parliamentarians at the meeting to push the case, but those of us who were there did do so. The response that we got was frightening, but it showed how, in trying to get Zimbabwe to change, it is fundamental to get the neighbours on board; to get Africa on board. They are the only people who will make Mugabe and his regime change.

That does not mean that we can do nothing. That is why the Government are trying to get those partners on board. It is probably not helpful if we are seen to lead the protests, but we need to encourage others to lead the way on this. This is undoubtedly a serious issue, and I urge the Government to do everything possible to put pressure on Zimbabwe and to get others to do so. Several Members have made good suggestions that I hope the Government will address, both in replying to the debate today and in determining policy. I am pleased that we were among the first to introduce targeted measures, such as the arms embargo in 2000, and that the EU played a big part internationally with measures such as asset freezing and travel restrictions, which have recently been renewed with the number of people prevented from travelling being increased. However, I urge the Government to do more wherever possible.

Ultimately, this is about the ordinary people in Zimbabwe who are being let down by the international community. They are suffering under Mugabe's appalling regime and if we can do anything more to help them, we should do so.

4.37 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

I agree with the criticism made by the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) of the Zimbabwe high commissioner to London, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi. He wrote me one of the most supine, absurd letters that I have ever read in my life. He lives in a different world altogether.

We have seen the total disruption of the rule of law, the totalitarian state is now complete and tyranny is fully entrenched. Many examples of that have been given today, in particular by my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). I also recognise the points made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) in his very good speech.

I should like to refer to one or two of the most appalling incidents in this sad and tragic country. A human rights lawyer called Gabriel Shumba, a thoroughly upstanding member of Zimbabwe society, who had often spoken out about the wrongs in that society, was called on to defend an MDC Member of Parliament who had had certain threats and accusations made against him. While he was consulting his client he was seized by armed police and held in a prison cell, then he was removed, shoved into a yellow vehicle with his head covered in a black hood and taken away to an unknown place. He was thrown down three flights of stairs, stripped naked, shackled by his hands and feet and abused and assaulted for many hours. He eventually sought asylum in South Africa, from where he bravely speaks out on behalf of the many different Zimbabweans who have sought asylum abroad and who want to return to Zimbabwe one day.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield spoke at some length about the agricultural and farming sector in Zimbabwe. He was right to do so, because that part of the productive capacity of the country has been subject to premeditated destruction. Previous debates on Zimbabwe in this House and in Westminster Hall have been dominated by events in the agricultural sector, and I do not want to add to those points today, except to comment on one aspect of that appalling situation that has not received any coverage in the press here.

Zimbabwe recently made international news by announcing the nationalisation of all land. What did not make the news, however, was the Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Materials Bill, despite the parliamentary legal committee in the Zimbabwe Parliament's unanimous declaration that five clauses of that Bill are unconstitutional. All opposition MPs walked out of Parliament in protest when it came to a vote, but the Bill was passed. The Bill allows the state compulsorily to acquire farm equipment and materials, and it forbids farmers from selling, dismantling, removing or destroying their property, which obviously includes tractors, ploughs, irrigation equipment, machinery, seed and fertilizer. That is just one more step on the way to the absolute breakdown of the rule of law.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the situation in Zimbabwe's schools, which affects not only the small number of white people in Zimbabwe, but many millions of black people. A couple of months ago, the Education Minister ordered the closure of all private schools. He said that those schools were racist, and that they threw out African pupils by hiking up their fees, but he did not say that 90 per cent. of pupils in Zimbabwe's private schools are black—virtually all Zimbabwean Ministers and civil servants send their children to such schools. Those schools may well survive, but they have not been allowed to put up their prices. A number of them are still closed, and they are suffering serious difficulties.

Ms Keeble

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of private school fees, because the Zimbabwean Government have also increased state school fees. Does he agree that they should examine their polices for educating children?

Mr. Bellingham

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I agree with her 100 per cent. The House has reached a consensus this afternoon, and one encouraging aspect of the debate is that few of the disagreements that would have arisen a few years back have come up today.

What more can Her Majesty's Government do? I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who rightly states that not enough has been done. On smart sanctions, the net should be widened to cover the children and relations of the 79 people who have been targeted already. Indeed, if a small country such as New Zealand can target 140 individual Zimbabweans, why can Europe not target more than 79?

What about the business associates of the regime who come to this country? The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) mentioned the governor of the Zimbabwean central bank, who came here with impunity. That man has blood on his hands and is closely connected to the regime, so why is he not on the list of smart sanctions?

Mr. Mullin

The EU sanctions list includes 95, not 79, people.

Mr. Bellingham

I am grateful to the Minister for putting me right. I got the figure of 79 from an e-mail from someone in Zimbabwe, but it is clearly out of date. I am glad that it has been extended, but it is still far short of the figure of 140 that was targeted by the New Zealand Government.

On next year's elections, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall that it is vital that international monitors are put in place well in advance. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey suggested that an eminent persons' delegation should go out to Zimbabwe as soon as possible to prepare the way for a proper monitoring process to oversee those elections. That is a good idea.

One of the recent by-elections took place in the seat that fell vacant on the death of Vice-President Simon Muzenda. When one considers the catalogue of abuses and outright criminal events that occurred in the run-up to that by-election, it is staggering that the Movement for Democratic Change managed to get any votes at all. In fact, its candidate ran the ZANU-PF candidate very close, despite the raiding and firebombing of its offices and the removal from the register of the names of some 7,000 of its supporters. In the event, the winner, Air Chief Marshal Josiah Tungimirai, polled only 1,000 more votes than the MDC candidate. That shows the level at which abuse of the electoral process is still going on; it is therefore vital that independent observers are put in place in very good time.

As we have heard, South Africa has a pivotal role to play in this, and I believe that it needs to have pressure put on it by the United States. Many US companies are based in South Africa and a huge amount of US aid goes into the country. South Africa's locus is pivotal, and I would have thought that the US could use its position to address that fact. South Africa can also play a role in increasing the number of targeted non-trade sanctions that could be effective against Zimbabwe. I agree with the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey that we can make more imaginative use of our position in the G8 to ensure that Zimbabwe is right at the top of the agenda.

On cricket, I agree with the comments of other hon. Members; indeed, I intervened on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes to that effect. The cricket world accepted South Africa for many years, despite the apartheid regime and abuse of human rights in that country, on the basis that the team was selected on fair grounds. But when the South African Government intervened directly in the English team selection of Basil d'Oliveira after he made his brilliant 158 not out at the Oval in the last test of the series, and the British Government were told that he would not be acceptable as a tourist in an English cricket team, we pulled out of that tour and sporting sanctions were applied to South Africa.

What we are seeing now is outright racism against the Zimbabwe cricket team. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall pointed out, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union is an adjunct to the Mugabe politburo, and racism is involved in the selection of players. The situation has got completely out of control. I sometimes despair at the supine attitude of the International Cricket Council. As the hon. Lady said, the Government must take more interest and start to get a bit tougher. It is no good their saying that it is entirely a private matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board, then standing back and doing nothing whatsoever about it.

The Prime Minister said, in his great speech at the party conference three years ago, that he would make Africa a major personal priority and a priority for the Labour Government. Several suggestions have been made today about how he could ensure action on that. I strongly believe that the Prime Minister will be judged on progress in Zimbabwe.

I should like the Under-Secretary to consider an issue that is not on everyone's radar screen. He knows that a British subject, Simon Mann, was arrested in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago for suspected mercenary activity. He went to Zimbabwe approximately a month before he was arrested, held meetings with Zimbabwe Defence Industries and put in an order for various weapons, mainly hand guns. Zimbabwe Defence Industries led him to believe that he was allowed to purchase those weapons but he was arrested a month later. Of course, I do not condone what has been happening—Simon Mann is normally well able to look himself—but he is in prison in Zimbabwe. He has apparently been tortured and starved. He is a British citizen and the Government should take a close interest in his basic human rights. I ask the Under-Secretary to consider that carefully.

I am worried that, after the expression of severe anger, marching and demonstrations by those who oppose the Government in Zimbabwe, people have turned to despair. To some extent, they have been paralysed into inaction. The demonstrations have stopped and there is a terrible fear of violence, torture and terror. Many good people in Zimbabwe have been crippled by despair and are sitting back and saying that they can do no more.

I conclude with a quote from a marvellous book, "Beyond Tears", by Cathy Buckle, which alludes to a Nazi victim in 1945:

"First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out

because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left

to speak out for me."

We have spoken out in the House this afternoon. The Government must do their bit and speak out for the people of Zimbabwe.

4.52 pm
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

I shall speak briefly. I have a great sense of deference to all the other hon. Members who spoke today because they are clearly more closely involved with Zimbabwe than I am, although I feel strongly about it, and I do not pretend to have their extensive knowledge of or contact with the country. However, I want to make some specific points.

I do not defer to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and his description of modern African history. Both sides in the cold war used Africa as a place where they had surrogates to fight that war. One could go through almost every country in Africa and find some mischief by right and left. For example, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary helpfully mentioned Mobutu and events after the murder of Lumumba. The Congo has experienced possibly the worst violence of the past 10 years. Approximately 3.5 million people have died, yet that has hardly registered on western political screens.

We have to be consistent in our view of what goes on in the world and treat terrible regimes and events with equal dislike and action. We cannot single out one specific regime because we feel more strongly about it for various reasons. Events in the Congo, where 3.5 million people died, have been especially appalling. Several Congolese refugees have come to my constituency and I know from them what has been happening there.

Idi Amin in Uganda was the west's preferred dictator. When he replaced Milton Obote, it was perceived to be beneficial to the west. What he did thereafter was quite appalling, and the only benefit for this country was that the Indian population was driven out of Uganda and many of them came to Britain. They have made a fantastic contribution to our society ever since. Many in my constituency—and, indeed, in my birthplace, Leicester—have made a great contribution. Idi Amin's was, however, an appalling regime with which the west acquiesced, because he was seen as the west's preferred kind of dictator at the time. We have to be consistent, however: we must condemn all appalling regimes and do everything we can to try to overcome them and replace them with democratic and civilised regimes.

I have a number of Zimbabwean refugees in my constituency, several of whom are connected with or active in the Movement for Democratic Change. Some are active politicians, but I will not mention their names, for obvious reasons. I have been pressing the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) to be more agreeable to allowing their families to obtain visas to come to Britain, because those politicians feel that, although they are prepared to risk their own safety and their own lives, they do not want to risk the safety or the lives of their families.

Those politicians' families are being intimidated, harassed and threatened, and if we could be more amenable to allowing them at least to take temporary refuge in Britain until the present regime in Zimbabwe has gone and there has been a return to a more democratic and civilised society, it would free those politicians and activists in the MDC to become more active and to feel less intimidated than they are at the moment. We heard from the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) that some of them have been cowed to the extent that they are no longer as challenging as they might be. I want to see Zimbabwe return to the path of democracy and freedom, but with the Opposition there so cowed, might we have to wait until Mugabe dies? Even then, some of his henchpeople might carry on if they held sufficient power.

We need to see some opposition in Zimbabwe, and we must do what we can to support the MDC activists and politicians. If that means helping them by allowing more of their families to come to Britain, at least temporarily until the Mugabe regime disappears, we ought to do that. I have had correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister about this, and I have met him to discuss a particular case. I hope that he will take note that I still feel strongly, not only about that case but about all the people who are suffering similarly in Zimbabwe. If we can help in the manner that I have described, it might help to engender more active opposition there, because people will feel freer and less threatened and fearful for their families, even though they are brave enough to stand up on their own behalf. I urge my hon. Friend to give serious thought to what I have said.

4.57 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

I apologise to the House for being out of the Chamber for some time after the opening speeches, but I was chairing a Committee elsewhere. I am glad to have this opportunity to make a brief contribution, although it will not be quite as brief as the admirable contribution of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins). He spoke with fervour and feeling, and I hope that his colleagues on the Front Bench will respond positively to what he said.

I remember being in the House one evening in 1979, when the late Ian Gow came to me and said, "Would you mind coming to the boss's room and cheering her up a bit? We're going to watch the handover in Zimbabwe." I duly went to the Prime Minister's room. My wife happened to be with me at the time—there were about a dozen of us altogether—and we sat there with Margaret Thatcher watching the small television set that she had in her room. We saw the immaculate Christopher Soames, who had gone over there as governor, and the handover was a most impressive sight. After it was over, I said, "Thank you, Prime Minister, for letting us watch this with you. This is an amazing achievement for your Government, so early in its period of office", or words to that effect. She gave me a steely look—she was quite good at that—and said, "Don't you be so sure. You wait and see how it all works out." Those were prophetic words.

The handover had to take place, Lord Carrington and others handled it with consummate diplomatic skill and it was a great achievement. What has followed, however, has borne out something of what Margaret Thatcher said. Certainly. no one who has taken part in this debate—I have had a briefing on some of the speeches—has not been appalled by the evil tyranny that we have seen unfold over the last few years.

During the Foreign Secretary's speech, mention was made of the massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s, and it is true that, with one or two notable and honourable exceptions, people did not speak out. I was not one of those who spoke out particularly at that time—I wish I had known more, and I wish I had done so. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I spoke out at the time of Bosnia, and I am very glad that we did. We played a small part in changing the Government's and the Opposition's policy. It is crucial that as we look at Zimbabwe now, we speak out and urge our Government to speak out a little more.

I do not for a moment cast any doubts on the integrity of Her Majesty's Ministers on the subject of Zimbabwe. I do not for a moment question their good faith. I am sure that everyone who has taken part in this debate, including both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister who will wind up, can unite in deploring the tyranny and evil. We are at one. I want to take it a stage further, however.

First, we must remind ourselves constantly of just how evil this regime When I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I received on its behalf, with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), who is not here today, a delegation from Matabeleland. The stories that we were told by those brave men—of the sterilisation of their women, of the food that they were not allowed to have, of the appalling visits in the night, and of all the other things that one associates with a tyrannical police state—were terrible. A few months later, I was invited to meet the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, who is also a man of enormous stature and dignity. He has spoken out with a bravery that few of us would be able to emulate. Thank God that he is still there, and long may he remain there. Again, what he told us about the nature of that regime, and of the supine attitude of some other clergy there, who ought to speak out and do not, was salutary.

More recently, something has come to my notice in a personal capacity that I want to mention briefly in the House. One of my great friends and contemporaries when I was a schoolmaster many years ago, Dr. Alan Megahey, went out in 1983 to be the rector of Peterhouse, which is one of the foremost schools in Zimbabwe. At that stage, it educated boys—and now boys and girls—both black and white, and by the time that Alan Megahey left, the majority of the pupils were black. Robert Mugabe had paid the school a visit, given out the prizes and said what a wonderful institution it was. A few weeks ago, Alan Megahey's successor was briefly put in jail, and the school was threatened with closure. Of course, the same has happened to private schools, to which my hon. Friends have referred, throughout Zimbabwe.

I sent some documents to the Foreign Secretary and I had a reply a few weeks later from the Minister who is sitting on the Treasury Bench. His reply was in most respects impeccable. I shall quote what I approve of. He said he condemned the arrests, and that Ministers were dismayed that they had taken place despite a court order nullifying the Government of Zimbabwe's decision to close the schools … It is appalling that head teachers such as the current Rector of Peterhouse have received such treatment at the hands of the Mugabe regime. Our Embassy in Harare has kept a close eye on this issue … It is tragic that a school which has done so much to foster multi racial and multi gender education in Zimbabwe —I do not much like the syntax, but the sentiment is admirable— may now be forced to close as a result of Mugabe's policies. As Dr Megahey's memo makes clear, if the school is not permitted to remain as an economically viable institution, it will have to close. This will be just as damaging for black Zimbabwean pupils, staff and their families as for white. That is all is splendid stuff, but then the Minister writes, and I referred to this briefly in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary: You suggest we make representations to the Zimbabwean Ambassador. The Government of Zimbabwe is fully aware of our views on its human rights abuses, which our European partners and we have condemned on numerous occasions. I do not believe that raising this issue with the Ambassador here will lead to any change in Zimbabwe policy. I am afraid I saw red. I immediately wrote back to the Foreign Secretary, on 18 June, marking the letter for his personal attention. I make no complaint about the fact that after a fortnight he may still not have seen it. The Foreign Secretary is a busy man and a decent man. He has a lot to do. The Minister, too is a decent man. He has campaigned vigorously on a number of issues, not always with my total agreement but always with my complete admiration. This is nothing personal.

I wrote that I was disappointed by the Minister's response: I entirely accept the Government's good faith and said that I had "a high regard" for the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but continued: But surely the fact that you do not believe that raising this issue with the Ambassador will achieve very much is no adequate excuse for not raising it. The more that Zimbabwe knows that we disapprove of its Government's actions across a whole range of issues the more it will become isolated, especially if we give publicity to our disapproval. I … would be grateful if you would have another think about this one". When I intervened on the Foreign Secretary, he replied that I had a good point. I hope that we will never—merely because we think we will not achieve anything—not tell the Zimbabwean ambassador in London that we deplore action of this kind. The actions of a repressive, tyrannical regime should always call for comment and condemnation from a civilised Government in a civilised country. I very much hope that following this debate the Foreign Secretary or the Minister will tell the ambassador precisely what he thinks of that sort of action. We must do more. As I said, it is not a question of good faith. It is not a question of saying that the Government are soft on Zimbabwe, but we must do more within the limitations that constrain us. Of course we cannot send an army to Zimbabwe, and of course we should not impose general sanctions that would further depress the living standards of people who are already living in dire poverty and penury as they suffer from a man who can perhaps be compared only with Papa Doc for the way he treats people. I think, though, that there are things than can be done. Let me make one or two suggestions, some of which I know have already been mentioned.

That list of 95—not 79—is not long enough. Anyone who is associated with those people should not be allowed to benefit from the way in which they are behaving. I want an assurance that all the assets of such people will be frozen. I want an assurance that those who send their children to school in this country, while denying children in Zimbabwe an opportunity to go to places such as Peterhouse, are not allowed to do so. I want an assurance from the Minister that anyone with any connection with this brutal regime will treated as an outcast and a pariah, not allowed into this country, and not allowed to benefit in any way, directly or indirectly.

I want more than that. I want the Foreign Secretary to give this issue a higher profile. I want him to invite to Carlton house all the African ambassadors and high commissioners, and I want him to tell them just what importance this Government attach to the Zimbabwe issue. I want him to tell them that although we have always been glad to help African nations in need and want to continue to help them, they themselves have a moral responsibility not to allow that cancer to develop further in the south of their great continent.

There must be some real, plain, tough speaking of that sort. Some feathers will be ruffled, but so what? That should be a preliminary, and in addition a conference to address the issue should be convened by the British Government, to which Heads of State and Heads of Government should be invited. We have seen a country that was in many ways one of the most prosperous, fertile and potentially rich nations on the continent of Africa reduced in effect to a dustbowl, its people poverty stricken and ruled by a regime that imposes the most appalling conditions on them. We have seen that develop during the past 25 years, since independence was granted, and we have a moral duty and obligation to point to that constantly and to do everything that we can to convince the other African nations that if they want Africa to emerge as a continent that is light and not dark in every part, they must recognise that in a world where democracy should be the norm, dictatorship cannot be tolerated.

It is important that the Government up the rhetoric. There is a place for rhetoric.

Mr. Mullin

There has been rather a lot of rhetoric in this case, though.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The Minister may say that, but while I do not criticise his good faith, intentions or credentials, I repeat that I think that more could be done to highlight the appalling nature of the regime and to try to motivate others in Africa to do something about it.

My plea to the Minister is that he will be reinforced by the consensus that has clearly been apparent throughout this debate, and recognise that people of all political persuasions on both sides of the House are united in their condemnation and in their desire to support Her Majesty's Government in taking a tougher stance. The Government will have our total support in that, and I speak as one who has not flinched from supporting the Government over the Iraq war. I have constantly given my willing support on that, because I believe that what the Prime Minister has done has been both honourable and right. I now ask the Government to behave in respect of Zimbabwe with the same resolve, courage and determination that they showed over Iraq. Surely that is not too much to ask, and if it brings a new consistency to Government foreign policy in their attitude towards repugnant, vile dictatorships, that will be a bonus. I hope that we will get an encouraging response in that vein from the Minister when he winds up.

5.14 pm
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab)

I apologise for not being here earlier; I had constituency business to deal with, as I pointed out in a note.

I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate and I want to talk in particular about some of the humanitarian issues, rather than the political ones that have dominated the debate thus far. On my first visit to Zimbabwe, just after Mugabe came to power, I was left with two very compelling impressions. The first was the enormous optimism of people who had just regained control of their country and the excitement about the new Government and—at that point—about Mugabe. The second powerful impression was left by the big massacre that was taking place in the south of the country, and by the accompanying famine. What was happening in the south was being overlooked. The rest of the world was turning a blind eye to it.

I visited Zimbabwe for the second time last autumn. The decline, the complete loss of optimism about what was going to happen and the despair at the course taken by the Zimbabwean Government was one of the most horrifying changes that I have ever witnessed in any country. The loss of agricultural output and the economic decay was astonishing and disastrous, and the impact on the people was appalling. To see starving people in Africa used not to be the norm, but it has certainly become so in Zimbabwe.

The political problems are now of a complexity that is hard to get a handle on. I agree completely with those who have said that the forthcoming elections will be crucial. Monitoring them will be important and I suspect that it will be extremely difficult. However, this is not just about the regime of one man. The regime is heavily institutionalised and, whatever happens, the institutionalisation of violence—particularly that affecting young people—is going to take a very long time to unpick. If things to go well in the election, it will still be important to deal with Zimbabwe afterwards virtually as a post-conflict society, because of the regime's impact over the past 18 to 20 years.

We need to look much more closely at what is happening to the population and not only deal with the situation now, but prepare for dealing with it for a long time to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) referred to Amin. Interestingly, although Uganda is now held up as a model of good development, economically it has only just got back to the point that it had reached before Amin came to power. I suspect that, even if the Government of Zimbabwe were to change tomorrow by some complete miracle, very long-term support and assistance would be needed to enable the country to rebuild to the position even of just a couple of years ago.

One issue that tends to get overlooked is the extent of hunger and the need for food. Last year, there was a big debate about whether the needs in the horn of Africa or in southern Africa wore the greater. When I visited Zimbabwe, I was told that, although many people suffered from much more acute hunger during the big Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, back then some 20 per cent. of the population were being supported by food aid. However, now some 50 per cent. of the population in Zimbabwe are being supported by food aid. That is an absolutely remarkable dependency level and such support will be needed for the foreseeable future.

I also pay tribute to the work of the non-governmental organisations in trying to meet food needs. They have helped to set up a distribution network for food aid running across the country, which has provided a remarkable service to the people of Zimbabwe. A further problem is that Mugabe is now looking forward to what will happen in the elections. That will mean real pressure being put on the NGOs, which may be unable to fulfil the task, so the problems of the general population in Zimbabwe may become acutely worse.

The NGOs are already coming under real pressure from the regime and have great difficulty in speaking either about what is happening or about the needs of the community. As the Minister will know, the assessment programme has been stopped and Mugabe says that he has enough food. The international community challenges that, but there is the problem of what will happen to people who need food now.

That problem is compounded by HIV/AIDS, which now affects about a third of the adult population. When I last visited Zimbabwe, I was interested in finding out about the work being done on HIV/AIDS, particularly the support provided for orphans, of whom there are about 800,000. The Minister knows that our own country would struggle to cope with a problem on that scale and I am sure that he is well aware of the pressing difficulties experienced in trying to contain the problems arising from the numbers of HIV orphans in Zimbabwe.

I recently tabled a question to the Secretary of State for International Development about the projections for the harvest in the coming year in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, I do not have the figures with me, but if I recall correctly, it is estimated that the harvest will be about 75 per cent. short of meeting the actual food needs of the country. If so, the shortfall will have to be made up through imports, which the Government of Zimbabwe say will be provided. We are told that there will be no hunger problems, but I am sure—and the agencies on the ground are sure—that the Zimbabwean Government estimates are wildly optimistic and that there will be real hardship at the time of next year's harvest. If I recall the seasons rightly, that will be about the time of the election.

I am sure that, from now until the election, the Zimbabwean Government will use their own food aid ruthlessly for political purposes and continue to put pressure on the NGOs that are struggling to meet real food need. The organisations have a difficult space within which to work, but by and large they operate free of political bias. The consequences for the general public will be disastrous. Everything will be done to ensure that Mugabe gets the result that he wants in the election.

I know that the Minister and the Foreign Secretary have encouraged "suggestions, suggestions". I ask them and their ministerial colleagues to look more closely into the possibility of increasing the pressure, particularly in respect of the need for NGOs and other agencies to have greater security and space within which to operate. In looking for a model to follow, they might like to reflect on the sort of action taken in respect of western Darfur.

The UK Government have, rightly, been at the forefront of providing assistance to Zimbabwe, in terms of food and support for work on HIV/AIDS. The question is not whether we are prepared to offer international aid, but how effectively it can be deployed. The Government of Zimbabwe want to control the provision of food aid, for political purposes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will work with colleagues, in the UN and the rest of the international community, to provide extra space for the agencies that provide the assistance to operate in, and to ensure that the aid is provided without political bias. I hope that he will also ensure that the distribution systems set up by NGOs such as the World Food Programme and its partner agencies continue to operate, as about half of Zimbabwe's population need to be fed.

In addition, I hope that the Government will look at the longer-term strategies to make sure that support programmes in connection with the food crisis and other service needs in Zimbabwe remain in place, regardless of what happens at the political level.

My visit to Zimbabwe last year was among the most horrifying that I have ever experienced, in Africa or anywhere else. It was uniquely clear that the hardship suffered by the population—the hunger, the catastrophic sickness levels, the hospitals that lack nurses, medicines and doctors and which routinely refuse to treat HIV/AIDS patients—were entirely the result of decisions by the Zimbabwean Government. It is exceptionally important that the international community makes the point that that Government must make space for the provision of basic humanitarian services.

Other pressing needs have to do with the abuses of human rights and the forthcoming election. However, I support the work done by this Government, with the Governments of South Africa and other nations, to bring pressure to bear on the Government of Zimbabwe with a view to securing change in that country. In particular, the hope is that elements in ZANU-PF will start to realise that they cannot continue to act as they have been acting, and that they must reach an accommodation with other parties at some point. In that way, we can ensure that there will be free and fair elections.

5.27 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

I thank all those who have contributed to this afternoon's debate. Everyone is concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, which is one of the great tragedies of Africa.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was the first of many speakers to allude to the many statistics showing the terrible breakdown that has occurred in Zimbabwe in respect of production in agriculture and manufacturing. He rightly spoke about the collapse of education services and presented a catalogue of horror in the country that used to be described as the bread-basket of Africa.

The right hon. Gentleman also discussed the damage done to South Africa, which has not understood fully the various problems that the situation in Zimbabwe has caused it. The catalogue of depressing statistics and background information was added to by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore). That underlines the concern felt in this House for the tragic plight of the people of Zimbabwe.

I pay unreserved tribute to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). Over and over again, she has highlighted this matter in a very personal and impressive way, both in this House and in various other ways. She talked about the collapse of medical support in Zimbabwe and the tragedy of dispossessed black farm workers, and about Mugabe's horrific desire to cling to power at any price. She was also entirely correct to highlight the absolute necessity for Zimbabwe to have free and fair elections. She also highlighted the difficulties of the press in operating in the atmosphere that exists in that country and the need for proper, validated election observers. She also talked about—correctly, in my view—refusing visas as a way of dealing with the proposed cricket tour.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who for many years has been a wonderful example of interest in and commitment to the people of Zimbabwe. He talked about the tragic destruction of education infrastructure and housing, about torture and human rights abuses, and the way in which the sale of maize—a staple diet of the people of Zimbabwe—has been brought under political control. My hon. Friend is right to talk about the tragic situation that obtained in Matabeleland 20 years ago. I was not a Member of Parliament at the time, but it does no credit to the Government of the time that they paid insufficient attention to what was happening as that tragedy unfolded. I know that my hon. Friend was one of the few people to highlight that issue and, in retrospect, we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) made the good point that the Churches should get together, visit Zimbabwe and report on the situation. He talked about it being the Palestine of Africa and about the need for a one-day conference on money laundering and Zimbabwe. All those points were well made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has also taken a keen interest in Zimbabwe. He talked about the corruption, violence and human suffering. He was right to say that we have a responsibility and a special interest, given our historic ties to Zimbabwe. He was also right to point out that a pension problem has arisen for those who worked in that country's civil service.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) expressed great concern. She mentioned the huge and increasing number of people in receipt of food aid, which is another manifestation of the tragedy of Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) mentioned an issue that has been insufficiently highlighted—the acquisition of farming material and equipment. We have heard about land nationalisation, but that has disappeared from view at the moment. The compulsory acquisition of that material and equipment is an abuse of the rule of law. My hon. Friend also talked about the need for independent monitors and observers of the election process and about the racism involved in the selection of the Zimbabwe cricket team.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) talked about the need for consistency in our approach to the appalling regimes in this world. He also mentioned the Zimbabwean citizens and politicians who live in his constituency without their families, and the difficulties that they face. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) urged the Government to speak out against what we all know to be an evil regime. He talked of the need for the Government to be in regular touch with the Zimbabwean emissary to convey our disapproval of actions undertaken by that Government. He also talked correctly of the need to deal with the cronies of the regime and their families if they benefit in any way from coming to the UK.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) was right to raise the humanitarian issues and what will happen post-Mugabe. A massive reconstruction effort will be necessary and we all need to think about that. She was also right to say that people weakened by lack of food and starvation are especially prone to developing HIV/AIDS.

The debate has expressed a universal view of great concern about the Zimbabwean tragedy, but I must make one point about that. We have had many debates on the issue, especially in Westminster Hall, in the past few years. Over and over again, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has put forward specific ideas to address the situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) did the same when he was shadow Foreign Secretary. Time and again, we have made specific and clear suggestions, and I thought that it was astonishing that the Foreign Secretary should say this afternoon that at no time have we made constructive suggestions about how to deal with the matter. My right hon. and learned Friend put forward a clear and whole policy agenda, as he has done time and again. It was demeaning for the Foreign Secretary to suggest that nothing but rhetoric has come from the Opposition, when we have tried to put forward specific suggestions on so many levels. His speech was flimsy and wholly inadequate.

There is anxiety about the skimming off of EU aid by the Mugabe regime, and I hope that the Minister will address that matter when he winds up. The European Communities Court of Auditors report for 2002 shows that no less than 89 per cent. of EU aid money provided for humanitarian purposes such as tackling AIDS and poverty in Zimbabwe has been creamed off by Mugabe and his cronies—a process that has been facilitated through a simple exchange rate scam. The audit estimates that Mugabe and his family, and those close to him in the regime, made something like £100 million. That is an outrageous sum, an abuse of aid and a total travesty.

Will the Minister respond on that subject? That appalling state of affairs has provoked criticism even from normally stoical EU officials.? In late February, one of them said: It is an absolute scandal. Taxpayers' money is going straight into the pockets of gangsters. I hope that the Minister will provide some information, because when the report was published, the Secretary of State for International Development launched an investigation. We welcome that, but it is important that we find out exactly what has happened. If the suggestions are true, what representations has the Minister made to the EU to change its aid delivery mechanisms? This episode is an outrageous abuse of taxpayers' money. Aid from the EU and the US sustains millions of Zimbabweans, and we want the people who need the aid, not members of the Mugabe family, to be helped.

Many good and encouraging things are going on in Africa. There is good economic growth in many of its economies, and political change in Kenya; there are many success stories. Sadly, however, the tragedy in Zimbabwe drowns them out and pushes Africa's successes out of the limelight. Zimbabwe casts a cloud over Africa's reputation.

It is therefore incumbent on the Government to make plain to other African countries the cost that Mugabe's regime imposes on them—a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). In the United Kingdom, and in the west in general, we must play our part in helping Africa to help itself. We must work to open our markets, provide debt relief and encourage inward investment in African countries that offer attractive opportunities. We must realise that in a globalised world, we cannot escape the consequences of instability or failed states even if they are halfway round the world. Economic consequences and the impact of refugee movements affect us all.

There are organisations that seek to act as a bridge between Africa's nations and the so-called west. The Southern African Development Community and the New Partnership for Africa's Development are two such organisations, which seek to bring together the need for aid and development with the need to deliver good governance. If they are truly to fulfil their potential and be internationally respected, they must be prepared to demonstrate that the peer review mechanisms designed to tackle members who breach their objectives and rules function effectively. The rules and mechanisms must be effectively applied to countries such as Zimbabwe.

The Government have several tools at their disposal to bring change to Zimbabwe. One is the diplomatic weight and pressure that the African Union and SADC could be persuaded to exert against Mugabe. Yet sadly, the Government's impact in that respect has been disappointing. For far too long, Mugabe's neighbours have done too little; it is unlikely that he would still be in power if those nations had adopted a proactive approach to his regime.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes told us, in last week's debate in another place Baroness Amos said that SADC had made repeated attempts to apply pressure to Mugabe. However, Mugabe still gets a respectful response at every SADC conference. Baroness Amos mentioned Bakili Muluzi, the former Malawian president who, wearing his SADC hat, declared that the Zimbabwean elections in 2002 were free and fair. We have read similar comments by the president of Tanzania. A further example of the problem, if one were needed, is that during the UN human rights conference, the southern African nations, led by South Africa, combined to block a motion banning obvious and well documented human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

In February 2004, the EU instructed its representatives in SADC countries to warn those countries' Governments about their policies on Mugabe. In every case, the Governments responded by downplaying what is going on in Zimbabwe. For four years, an endless series of British diplomats, Ministers and representatives called on those same Governments, discussing the situation in Zimbabwe in restrained terms. They reported back stating that the leaders whom they met now understood the issue better and recognised that Mugabe's rhetoric did not represent the true state of affairs. However, will the Minister tell the House how the recent series of meetings were responded to? In addition, can he tell us whether, in the Government's opinion, those SADC countries have taken up their responsibilities to seek to influence the course of events in Zimbabwe—after all, refugees from Zimbabwe are all over southern Africa?

NEPAD is a partnership between the developed and developing world. Its framework enables African countries to receive aid and inward investment from the developed world on the condition that they follow good governance and respect the human rights of their peoples. However, the NEPAD countries have so far been able to exert little influence over Mugabe. Indeed, on several occasions, they have thwarted the diplomatic initiatives of others. Regional pressure could achieve so much more than the Governments in the west could ever hope to do, so a two-pronged approach would be desirable. The west working in partnership with Zimbabwe's neighbours is what is needed if change is to come in Zimbabwe, so the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey was good. However, sadly, we have yet to see action from Zimbabwe's African neighbours, and without their help, Mugabe can be safe in the knowledge that change will not come about.

It is clear from the debate and the ever-growing catalogue of injustices, murders and deprivation in Zimbabwe that the Government's policy towards the country has failed. The outlook for next year's elections is ominous because few optimists expect anything but a Mugabe victory.

May I take this opportunity to offer the Government some constructive suggestions on how their Zimbabwean policy may be strengthened? They must take southern African leaders to task for their support of Mugabe. It is still the case that they cheer for Mugabe at SADC conferences while receiving our overseas aid, which undermines what NEPAD stands for. Their influential clout and leverage to challenge Mugabe over his policies is not being utilised, so I encourage the Minister to be publicly open and frank with our African friends about the importance of the role that they can play.

The Government should embargo all companies that support or work hand in hand with the ZANU-PF regime, such as the Dimon company to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes referred. I also encourage the Government to examine US regulations that forbid deals with certain Zimbabwean counterparts, because such legislation could perhaps be introduced in the UK. We have heard about extending the travel ban on Cabinet Ministers to include their families and other prominent regime figures. It is far too easy for ZANU-PF bigwigs to move funds around the world via their children and dependents.

It is also worth noting that Zimbabwe owes South Africa and Mozambique millions of dollars in back payments for imports of electricity and fuel. I echo the words of the brave Zimbabwean archbishop Pius Ncube, who advocated South Africa switching off electricity supplies to Zimbabwe. Such a policy would have an immediate impact, as it did when a previous South African Government threatened and took that action. Opponents would argue that the measure would hit the poorest hardest, but that is not the case. It would create a short-term major difficulty, but power cuts happen at the moment and there is a lack of supply. Frankly, the sooner the regime is brought to heel, the better. Even raising the matter would indicate intent, so I am sorry that the Government have thus far failed to do that.

We must ensure that Mugabe is thwarted and prevented from winning next year's elections through corruption, manipulation and violence. If he is victorious and retains power it will be increasingly difficult to break his stranglehold over his people, and we must never forget the tragedy that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe. The key is the SADC norms and standards for free and fair elections.

In conclusion, the UK, acting with the US and the EU, clearly has a part to play, but there are occasions when we must speak openly to our friends in Africa—Archbishop Tutu, Tony Leon and others have done so—many of whom are in receipt of aid funded by the British taxpayer. It is in their interests, as it is in the interests of everyone who wants Africa to prosper, to tackle that blot on the reputation of the entire continent.

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

We have had a good debate, in which thoughtful and sensible points were made by Members on both sides of the House, who described graphically the penury to which that once prosperous country has been reduced. My hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) both have first-hand experience of Zimbabwe, having visited it fairly recently.

There is, of course, no significant difference between the parties. Members on both sides of the House want a return to democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, and we all want effective international measures to achieve that end. We all agree—at least I think we do—that such measures should be carefully targeted so as not to make the lives of the ordinary, innocent citizens of Zimbabwe, who, goodness knows, have suffered enough, any more difficult than they already are. Where there is perhaps a difference—and I should like to address this at the outset—is over the suggestion that Britain should take unilateral action against Zimbabwe and its Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] If hon. Gentlemen would contain themselves—

Mr. Bellingham

It is difficult to do so when the Minister makes such remarks.

Mr. Mullin

It is not at all difficult to contain oneself, is it Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. We must not have sedentary interventions that turn the debate into a general conversation. If Members wish to intervene, they should do so in the usual way.

Mr. Mullin

Admirably put, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As I said, if there is a difference between us—perhaps there is not—it concerns the suggestion that Britain should act unilaterally against Zimbabwe and its Government. If only we did so, ZANU-PF would suddenly come out with its hands up, and everything would be all right. I am afraid that life is not like that.

Mr. Spring

Where does the suggestion of unilateral action to which the Minister alluded come from? No one in the Chamber this afternoon has suggested that the United Kingdom take unilateral action, so I do not understand what he is talking about.

Mr. Mullin

Members have spoken today about adding names to lists and so on. The suggestion has certainly been made in the past, and Government Members have attended many debates on Zimbabwe in Westminster Hall where demands for unilateral action have been made.

From the outset, the Government have taken the view that if we are to be effective we must act in concert with our friends and allies in the international community. [Interruption.] Well, if we do not disagree, that is fine, but that is a revelation to me, as I have been under the impression for some time that some Members have a different view about what should be done.

Kate Hoey

For the sake of clarity, it is important that the Minister differentiate between calls for unilateral action and the UK taking a lead in trying to move things forward. That is completely different from what he has suggested.

Mr. Mullin

Offering leadership is exactly what we have been doing. Working through the EU, we have agreed a Europe-wide arms embargo, an assets freeze and a travel ban on leading members of the regime. The list of those subject to the assets freeze and travel ban is reviewed every year and. as hon. Members will know, this year it was extended from 79 to 95 names. We are always willing to consider new names when the list comes up for review. A number of hon. Members have made suggestions which we will certainly bear in mind.

We also work closely with the American Government, who have a similar policy, and at Abuja last year we worked with our friends in the Commonwealth to ensure that Mugabe remains suspended, despite pressure from some quarters that he should be readmitted to the Commonwealth. In fact, he chose to withdraw Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. That was his choice, not ours. For our part, we look forward to welcoming a democratic Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth in due course.

We make no apology for that approach. We believe it to be the right one. Yes, it has its frustrations. Yes, it is sometimes necessary to compromise, but at the end of the day it is far more effective than the alternative. Those who advocate a unilateral approach need to recognise, first, that they risk placing in jeopardy the carefully constructed international consensus on Zimbabwe, and secondly, that a unilateral approach would play straight into the hands of Mugabe and his cronies, who would like nothing better than to portray the situation as a dispute between themselves and the former colonial power.

I draw the attention of the House to an article by the journalist Andrew Meldrum that appeared recently in The Spectator. Mr. Meldrum wrote: Mr. Mugabe is impervious to criticism from Britain. In its most recent report on South Africa the Foreign Affairs Committee reached a similar conclusion. It said: The United Kingdom's status as the former colonial power in Zimbabwe makes any attempt to influence the situation in the country on a purely bilateral basis very difficult. Hon. Members should bear that in mind when urging us to add names bilaterally to our travel ban list or to act unilaterally against sporting tours. Far from hurting Mugabe and ZANU-PF, we could play into his hands.

It is an unhappy fact that although Mr. Mugabe and his cronies have not proved, to put it mildly, very successful at feeding their own people or managing their economy, they have proved surprisingly successful at convincing some of their fellow African leaders, even some of the more enlightened ones. that the main cause of their difficulties is a dispute over the land rights of a handful of white farmers. Naturally, we rebut such nonsense wherever we come across it, but it is a factor that we have to take into account in our dealings with other African states. Opposition Members would do well to bear that in mind when sounding off in public on the subject. What plays well in certain parts of the home counties does not necessarily go down well in the places that matter if we are to achieve peaceful change in Zimbabwe.

Let me deal with some of the specific points raised by hon. Members.

Sir Patrick Cormack


Mr. Mullin

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have only a short time left and I was about to address the points that he made in his impressive speech. He suggested that as a matter of course we should always make representations to the Zimbabwean ambassador in London. He has slightly greater faith than I have in the efficacy of representations to that gentleman, but our high commission in Harare regularly makes representations on all the issues that both the hon. Gentleman and I care about, and the Foreign Office regularly issues statements underlining the Government's position.

The hon. Gentleman said, and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) said as well, that we should always be frank with our African friends. I agree, and we are.

Mr. Spring

Not in public.

Mr. Mullin

Yes, we are, in public. I shall come to that in a moment. In the course of my year in this job, I have bent the ear, on the subject of Zimbabwe, of just about every President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, high commissioner and ambassador of an African country who has passed through my office or whose office I have passed through, and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have done the same when meeting African statesmen.

In South Africa last year—it attracted a little bit of publicity—I said publicly, exactly as I think the hon. Member for West Suffolk would want me to say, that there is no point in African Governments signing up to lofty sentiments about democracy and the rule of law if, the first time a hard case like Zimbabwe comes along, they bury their heads in the sand. I have said that publicly repeatedly, including in South Africa, and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that we are doing some of the things that he would like us to do.

The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) contained the usual quota of irrelevant huffing and puffing, but at the end it contained a number of serious suggestions.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested SADC norms for elections, and we agree with him. Discussions with SADC are ongoing on that point. He talked about getting the UN and SADC to monitor free and fair elections, and we agree. We want the UN there, and we are talking to it about that, but it needs to be invited, and only the other day the regime threw out the UN crop assessment team, so we should not be under any illusion about the practicalities of that. He called for the repeal of some oppressive laws, and we agree with him on that. But we cannot change Zimbabwe's laws; it has to do that itself. He called for a travel ban on business men bankrolling the regime. If he or anyone else has evidence of particular business men bankrolling the regime, we would be prepared to consider that and add their names to the travel ban and asset freeze list. He talked about moving a resolution at the Security Council even if it meant defeat, but we do not think that would be a good idea. He asked about US companies involved in a maize-for tobacco-deal. We are aware of the allegations and we understand that the US State Department is investigating whether the sanctions have been breached.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked about the EU and the Court of Auditors. I understand that the figures used in the report were purely speculative notional savings, that the real amount affected was small, and that no humanitarian aid was involved since all purchases were made outside Zimbabwe. In any case, the problem no longer exists since the parallel exchange rates no longer exist.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) asked what estimate we had made of the effectiveness of the existing measures. The arms embargo we judge to be effective. For example, reports show that the Zimbabwe air force's Hawks are grounded, presumably for lack of spare parts. The travel ban has undoubtedly proved a problem for leading members of the regime and has also inflicted some ignominy on them. The assets freeze has had only limited success; the amount of money frozen is relatively small. If we could find more, we would freeze it. However, the arms embargo, the travel ban and the assets freeze are more effective for being Europe-wide rather than bilateral.

The International Cricket Council has this afternoon confirmed that Zimbabwe will not play in test matches this year, but will continue to play the one-day cricket, so its position has not changed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we will not ban people from playing cricket here or British citizens from playing cricket in Zimbabwe. At the end of the day, it is a matter for individuals and for the cricketing authorities. Whether British cricketers tour Zimbabwe is a matter for them. The Government have made it clear that we would prefer them not to go. We have said that repeatedly. [Interruption.] No, we will not put a unilateral ban on British citizens going to play cricket. In this country we have freedom of travel.

I am aware that I have not been able to deal with a number of points in the short time available, and I will write to those hon. Members whose queries I have not addressed and I apologise for not reaching their points. I hope that it is clear from what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have said today that Zimbabwe is a high priority for the Government. Far from dragging our feet, as some have alleged, we are in the forefront of international efforts to achieve a return to democracy. Outside Britain—dare I say it, outside Wiltshire—that is widely recognised. Mr. Mugabe has certainly noticed, even if the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes has not. Alongside our friends in the international community we will continue to work for the return of democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, and in the meantime we will continue to do what we can to relieve the suffering of those in need. The ZANU-PF nightmare will not last forever and when the end comes we will be in the forefront of efforts to rebuild that tragic and beautiful country.

It being Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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