HC Deb 13 July 2004 vol 423 cc1252-4
12. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with Commonwealth leaders about democracy in Zimbabwe. [183366]

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

We are in regular contact with our Commonwealth partners about Zimbabwe. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the matter with the South African Foreign Minister on 13 June, and will do so again when he visits South Africa next month. I discussed the issue at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week. We will continue to work for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Turner

We hear about June, July and then August. It is not only my Zimbabwean constituents who are concerned about the situation in their country. Many people are concerned about the abuse of food aid as a political weapon, militia beatings, police-condoned assaults on Opposition politicians, and attacks on the press and judicial independence. Why is democracy in Zimbabwe apparently an optional extra for this Government?

Mr. Mullin

It is not, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. As I have said before—and as we said in the debate on this subject the other day, at which he was not present—hardly a day passes without the subject of Zimbabwe passing across my desk or that of one or other of my colleagues. We take the situation in that country very seriously, and we have made it clear to all parties that we want to see a return to democracy and the rule of law there.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op)

In his discussions with Commonwealth leaders, has the Minister analysed how we got into this terrible mess with Zimbabwe? Will he discuss with them ways in which the failure to address the land question can be avoided elsewhere in the Commonwealth and, in particular, ways in which similar issues that are now arising in Namibia can be dealt with?

Mr. Mullin

We have addressed the land issue, and we made it clear from the outset—and made money available some years ago to Zimbabwe to help it redistribute land through the rule of law—that we fully acknowledge the unfairness of land distribution in that country. What we do not accept, however, is the criminal way in which it has gone about redistributing land. It remains the case that we are ready to assist in the event that some future democratic Government in Zimbabwe set about trying to reform the land ownership structure in a responsible and democratic way.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

Should we not be exploring how the Ministers and senior officials of Zimbabwe can be made personally accountable and ultimately criminally liable for their acts?

Mr. Mullin

Certainly, that is an issue that will arise after the return of democracy in that country, but it will ultimately be a matter for the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Is it not a fact that each of the Commonwealth countries neighbouring Zimbabwe has a number of refugees from Zimbabwe? That spells out clearly the problems being faced by the people of Zimbabwe. Is it not time that President Mbeki took a strong lead to end the problems that the poor people of Zimbabwe are facing because of the regime there?

Mr. Mullin

The South Africans are under no illusions about the extent of the crisis in Zimbabwe. They have the best part of 2 million refugees from that country, and I am sure that they are as frustrated as we are by the lack of progress. I know that President Mbeki has been trying to achieve dialogue between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change. So far, we see no evidence that that is working. As I said, I am sure that they are as well aware as we are of,the scale of the problem, and they share our frustration.

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