HC Deb 02 March 2004 vol 418 cc748-50
8. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)

How many British passport holders in Zimbabwe renewed their passports at the British High Commission in Harare in 2003. [157418]

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

The high commission in Harare issued 2,143 passports in 2003, approximately 90 per cent. of which were renewals.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Will he salute the courage of British passport holders in Zimbabwe? Will he note that most of them think that the Government are being utterly feeble in standing up to Africa's Hitler? Will he accept that one way in which he could practically help these passport holders would be to change the consular fees order to allow passport renewal fees to he paid in sterling rather than in the local currency? As the hon. Gentleman will know, the local currency is subject to 600 per cent. inflation and can be obtained only on the black market. Many British passport holders in Zimbabwe are suffering badly economically, and to allow passport renewal fees to be paid in sterling would be one small way to alleviate the burden.

Mr. Mullin

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to lower the tone of what I thought was a reasonable question. I took the trouble to speak to our consul in Harare this morning. He says that he is not aware of any serious difficulty in British citizens paying for their passports under the existing arrangements. He says that there have on a couple of occasions been problems when people in this country have tried to pay for passports on behalf of relatives who live in Zimbabwe, but that it has always been possible to sort those problems out. It is not necessary for people to wheel great barrow-loads of currency into the high commission. The high commission can accept bankers' drafts, and it does. Our consul was unaware of any serious difficulty.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab)

On the question of passports, the Minister will doubtless have seen the appalling film on "Panorama" on Sunday night about what Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe, infiltrating and intimidating groups of young people, who will be used to ensure that there are no free elections next year. Does he share my concern that many Zimbabweans leave Zimbabwe without papers, cross the border into South Africa, then eventually find their way by some means or other to this country, perhaps using a passport that is not theirs? Will he have a quiet word with the Home Secretary to ensure that Foreign Office and Home Office policies on Zimbabwe are married together so that genuine asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are not sent back to South Africa, where they suffer abuse as a result of secret intelligence from Zimbabwe?

Mr. Mullin

I am happy to talk to my colleague in the Home Office about this issue, as I have done in the past.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

Do the Government have special contingency plans for British passport holders in the event of escalating further violence in Zimbabwe? What frank and open discussions, if any, has he had with the South African Government about the impact on British citizens and other foreigners whose personal situation is deteriorating because of the lack of firm and resolute action against the Mugabe regime? Does he agree that the so-called quiet diplomacy sponsored by President Mbeki has now collapsed, as we repeatedly forecast, accompanied by violent attacks on opponents, including British passport holders, and on the press and judiciary on top of the economic chaos. Will the Government urgently provide time for the first time on the Floor of the House for a debate on the subject?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must tell the Front Bench that this has become quite a habit. The original question was about passports, so hon. Members' questions must relate to that matter and not go wide of it.

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