HC Deb 01 April 2003 vol 402 cc189-212WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

9.30 am
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing us the opportunity to ensure that Zimbabwe is not forgotten at a time when the Government's efforts are rightly focused on ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, my fear—it is my principal reason for seeking this debate—is that Robert Mugabe may be increasing his oppression and terror under the cover of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In another place last month, Baroness Amos said that comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe were not valid. I wonder. He may not have weapons of mass destruction, but Robert Mugabe is a brutal tyrant whose actions threaten not just his own people but the stability of the region. When I visited southern Africa with Edward Heath in 1981, I thought that it was the oppressive apartheid regime of Pretoria that could drive the region into chaos, while the emerging democracy of Zimbabwe offered a beacon of hope to the continent of Africa. How wrong that judgment was—and how much of my error can be explained by the contrasting personalities of Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela.

Our debate is about exposing the horrors that are unfolding in Zimbabwe today, and letting the people there know that we have not forgotten them. We meet after the welcome news of the victory of the Movement for Democratic Change in both of the weekend's by-elections. However, two by-election swallows do not make a summer in Zimbabwe; and this morning we read of an intensified crackdown on the MDC, including the arrest of the party's vice-president. We are indeed still witnessing a winter of discontent in Zimbabwe.

Today, we must give voice to the concern, felt by so many people in Britain and around the world, that Robert Mugabe is being given a free ride in oppressing his people and destroying the economy of southern Africa. I know of that concern because many of my constituents have friends and colleagues in the country. I know of two people in particular. One is a white Zimbabwean farmer who has fled to the United Kingdom and who, to our shame, has hardly been welcomed with open arms the other is the mother of a health professional who fled to the UK from the terrors of Harare—including at least two attempts on his life—who simply did not get the support that he was entitled to expect from the Foreign Office. Perhaps it is because so many of us have such contacts with Zimbabwe, both direct and indirect, that we feel so strongly about what we see as the Government's failure to act with sufficient clarity and purpose to mobilise the international community to deal with Mugabe's growing menace.

Our concern is for all the people of Zimbabwe. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), said in a previous debate on Zimbabwe, that Zimbabwe's problems are the result not of a black versus white conflict or a conflict between Zimbabwe and Britain, but of poor Government policies. The main victims of the regime's policies are the poor, black people of Zimbabwe.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 17 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 187WH.] I therefore welcome the seriousness with which today's debate is being taken, notably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I hope that it will inspire the Government, for the first time, and in their own time, to have a full day's debate on the Floor of the House on this terrifying tragedy.

Things are getting much worse in Zimbabwe. Amnesty International said of events before the by-elections: What we are witnessing is much more than the government's usual tactic of raising the level of violence in the run-up to elections. This is an explosive situation where there seem to be no limits to how far the government will go to suppress opposition and maintain its hold on power. I shall speak later about the escalating violence, but let us remind ourselves just how bad life is for the vast majority of the population.

Today, 7 million people in Zimbabwe face starvation. There are forecasts of a huge deficit in cereal foods. The Department for International Development has admitted that matters are serious, and said that the World Food Programme is starting to make contingency plans. Can the Minister update the House on that matter? Has any progress been made in stopping the Government of Zimbabwe preventing the delivery of food aid to many vulnerable communities, and in preventing Mugabe from using the food aid that we supply as a political weapon?

The famine has exacerbated the HIV/AIDS crisis. An estimated 2.2 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV/AIDS and more than 600,000 children have been orphaned by the pandemic.

Last month, the Minister, Baroness Amos, said: Zimbabwe's economy has continued to decline and is now in crisis. It contracted by 12 per cent. in 2002, according to the estimates of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. It is now the fastest shrinking economy in the world. Inflation is over 200 per cent., unemployment is over 70 per cent. and its currency has continued to plummet in value. There is little food, fuel or foreign exchange. That decline is largely due to poor economic policies, which have undermined macroeconomic stability and destroyed business confidence."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2003; Vol. 645, c. 904–5.] The country once described as the breadbasket of southern Africa is at breaking point. In October 2002, a well-informed columnist at The Times warned of tribally-based genocide in Zimbabwe. He predicted that The majority Mashona tribe, who occupy the richer, northern part of the country centred on Harare, may soon be urged by their leader, Robert Mugabe, and his Zanu (Patriotic Front) governing party into a genocidal bid to take from the southern Matabele ("take back", he would say) the lands which the Mashona believe were stolen from them more than a hundred years ago. The situation has parallels with Kosovo. The plan would be to drive the Matabele, by terror and by massacre, over the southern borders of Zimbabwe whence (in some Mashona minds) they came. In November 2002 Physicians for Human Rights concluded: It is our opinion that starvation and eventually death will occur upon party political lines in Zimbabwe. Five months on, that terrible prophecy is being realised. Mugabe's aim is undoubtedly the elimination of any opposition to his rule, and famine is his weapon. He does not care about the people of Zimbabwe; all he cares about is his own political survival. Here is a real and vivid parallel with the butcher of Baghdad—and, like Saddam, Mugabe has a record. In the late 1980s, he used starvation as a tactic for political intimidation. His notorious 5 Brigade, trained by North Korean instructors, was used to suppress internal dissent. The campaign was aimed at the power base of his rival ZAPU, its leader Joshua Nkomo and its ethnic supporters. Between 10,000 and 20,000 died, as the world turned a blind eye. To make the same mistake again would disgrace—I would say, is disgracing—the international community.

Today, Zimbabwe bears an uncanny resemblance to Nazi Germany during the 1930s. There is the same steady erosion of the independence of the army, the civil service and the institutions of the state. Like the Nazis, Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has a parallel party organisation that runs alongside, but always overrides, formal state institutions such as the police and the army. Hitler's brownshirts have their precise counterpart in Mugabe's youth leagues, known as green bombers. The similarity is not lost on Mugabe. He even admits to modelling himself on Hitler. Only last week, he told an audience of his henchmen: I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for. He also warned the MDC that, in resisting his regime through mass action, they were playing with fire and that those who play with fire will be consumed by that fire. Mugabe has not just been talking vainly of himself as a vile dictator; sadly, he has been acting like one too. He has gone through the opposition with a fine-toothed comb. There is a programme of imprisonment, torture and sexual assault on opposition activists.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum is not alone in expressing its concern about the increased use of state agents to violate human rights. Last month, more than 500 people were arrested in three days. The Daily News, one of the few independent media outlets in Zimbabwe, reported that 1,000 farm workers, including women and children, at opposition Member of Parliament Roy Bennet's estate in Chimanimani, sustained serious injuries in state-sponsored beatings. Even before the MDC-organised "stay-away" on 18 and 19 March, Baroness Amos had told us: This year alone has seen the arrest of eight MPs and four senior officials, including the MDC Mayor of Harare. Some of those arrested have been tortured while in police custody—including the MDC MP, Job Sikhala; an allegation substantiated by government doctors."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 March 2003; Vol. 645, c. 905.] The Institute for Democracy in South Africa has reported on the most recent violence. It said: The severity of the injuries seems to be attributed to the fact that the majority of the perpetrators were apparently Zimbabwe National Army soldiers, in uniform, who were conveyed in military vehicles to the homes of the victims. The perpetrators were well equipped with weapons of torture such as batons, chains, hosepipes, and rifles. In most cases there were groups between twenty and fifty, assaulting individuals. It is also evident that not only the ZNA were involved. People taken by the police for questioning were handed over to youth militia, and taken behind the police station where they were assaulted severely, again using weapons such as baton sticks, hose pipes and chains. Observing that this is the first time for three years that members of the military have formed the highest percentage of the perpetrators of such violence, the update continues: Nearly all the victims over the past four days were active members of the MDC, holding rank in the party structure, and the more senior ranks were targeted for abduction and torture to obtain more information regarding plans for further mass action. Many of these people are unable to return to their homes, and have continued to receive threatening phone calls. Many were threatened with further assault, if they reported their injuries, and in one case, a victim who had received life saving treatment at a hospital and been discharged was assaulted again, requiring readmission for other injuries. Those details are corroborated by the Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition, based in Harare. In a lengthy briefing document, which includes the most harrowing case histories, it lists the types of weapon used in the most recent attacks: The perpetrators used fists and booted feet to beat their victims. They also used blunt instruments including batons, sticks, and AK rifle butts. The perpetrators were also equipped with sjamboks (whips), chains and hosepipes. In addition, many victims reported the use of torture tactics, including electrocution. Other traumas included burning with cigarettes and acid, inserting foreign objects into women's genital areas, urinating in the victim's mouth, and forcing the victims to drink substances such as urine. Psychological torment was also used, as victims were often threatened with a slow and painful death, and warned not to seek medical treatment or to report the incident. I do not have time to quote extensively from the case histories, but I shall give just one—that of 32-year-old MK, who lives in a suburb of Harare and works for the MDC. MK said: At approximately lam on Sunday 23 March 2003"— last Sunday— twenty men (16 in army uniform and 4 in civilian clothing) climbed over the boundary wall surrounding our home. When my father answered the knocking on the door the men burst in shouting that they wanted his wife They called her out and attacked her. She was wrapped in a cloth, and they did not wait for her to dress before they started to beat her with hose pipes and the butts of their AK 47 assault rifles. Her cloth fell off leaving her naked and they continued to beat her. They locked my father and the younger children in the bedroom. I heard my mother screaming—they made her open her legs and they tried to push the barrel of an AK into her vagina. That is but the opening of the testimony of MK.

The situation cannot be allowed to continue but, as ever, the question is what can we do. We must start matching our rhetoric with our actions. The Government must accept the conclusion of the report on human rights of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which states that "the failure" of their policy of constructive engagement in Zimbabwe reveals the limits of that policy as an effective diplomatic tool. The Government must also understand that, although the Prime Minister's promises that there will be "no tolerance" of the activities of Mr Mugabe's henchmen in Zimbabwe make good headlines, they have a devastating effect on those who look to Britain for help, when those words are not backed up by robust action. The Government must admit that the EU travel ban for Mugabe and his henchmen has been shot through with loopholes. The French, in particular, holed it below the waterline when they invited Robert Mugabe to Paris in February—not that he is the only member of his vile regime to have visited Europe and found a way round the ban. Nor was that his only visit since the ban. Mugabe and two other members of his Government visited Rome four months after the travel ban was introduced last February. There have been other visits by people whom we supposed were banned. Parliamentary answers tell us of four visits to Paris, one to Lyon and four to Belgium, and there have probably been more.

Britain must play a greater role in bringing pressure from the wider international community to bear on Mugabe. It should persuade EU leaders to extend sanctions to the business men who bankroll Mugabe, persuade Commonwealth leaders of the need to press home the principles embedded in the Harare declaration and encourage southern African countries to follow Kenya's lead and condemn Mugabe's vile regime. It is a matter of the greatest regret that some members of the Commonwealth are already urging Zimbabwe's readmission into the organisation. The decision has, at least, been delayed until December. There is a need here for urgent and intense diplomacy by our Government. There can be no question of readmission while Mugabe remains in power.

Another issue is the role of the United Nations in resolving the situation. The Government have talked of activity there, but I do not see enough. I understand that our mission to the UN, and Ministers, have been preoccupied with Iraq, but we cannot fight dictators one at a time. That is the way in which evil flourishes, and it must be fought on all its fronts. Many people are asking why the Security Council still believes that Zimbabwe does not pose a threat to regional security when it is clear that the current situation is having serious regional implications. Others are making the comparison between Zimbabwe and Kosovo, on which the Security Council adopted resolutions 1199 and 1203 in 1998—referring to that "grave humanitarian situation" and "impending humanitarian catastrophe"—and resolution 1244 in 1999.

The Security Council has never discussed Zimbabwe, and it is time that it did. I can conclude only that the world is waiting for the situation to get worse before acting. Is that not exactly the kind of situation to which the Prime Minister referred when 18 months ago he warned: If Rwanda happened again today … we would have a moral duty to act there"? Now is a tragic time for Zimbabwe. Those who look to Britain for help have a right to expect that we, above all, will not turn a blind eye. Ministers must realise that they can rely on rhetoric only for so long before people start asking, "How is Mugabe managing to starve 7 million of his own people without any real consequences?"

Such tragic evil has but one source—the man Mugabe. In any free and fair election, he would lose; but the most recent election was neither free nor fair. Last week Baroness Amos told Lord Tebbitt that it is not British policy to have regime change in Harare."—[Official Report. House of Lords, 26 March 2003; Vol. 646, c. 803.] I hope by that that there was no suggestion of toleration of the results of that election.

Zimbabwe has been poisoned by one man's arrogance and obsession. As Webster wrote in "The Duchess of Malfi":

  • "Considering duly, that a prince's court
  • Is like a common fountain, whence should flow
  • Pure silver drops in general, but if't chance
  • Some curs'd example poison't near the head,
  • Death and diseases through the whole land spread."

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam)

Order. I intend to call the wind-ups to start no later than 10.30, so I make a plea to hon. Members to be as brief as possible, so that as many as possible can get in.

9.47 am
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) on securing the debate. I agree with almost everything he said. Zimbabwe is a very sad place and we and our Government should do more.

Hon. Members who read the early-day motions this morning will have noticed that, serendipitously, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) has tabled early-day motion 989 on Zimbabwean cricketers in which he pays tribute to Henry Olonga and Andy Flower. What contact is there with Henry Olonga, who is in hiding in South Africa and whose life is in danger? I hope that the right procedures are being followed through the usual channels so that, if we need to, we can ensure that he is safer.

I have spent a considerable part of the past six years focusing on cricket and money laundering in connection with Zimbabwe. It is appropriate to mention Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, but we should also pay tribute to Nasser Hussain, who took a difficult decision. I am reminded of my phone conversation with Tim Lamb before the England cricketers left Australia to go to Zimbabwe. I had written a personal letter to Nasser Hussain asking whether he would like to come to be briefed by us about events in Zimbabwe. Tim Lamb said that he was minded not to show the letter to Nasser Hussain, to which I replied, "In that case, I might just phone and tell the Press Association immediately I put the phone down on this call." His response was, "In that case, I might show him the letter." The England and Wales Cricket Board has shown the most appalling leadership on this issue. I congratulate Nasser Hussain on the stand that he took, given the difficult position in which he was placed.

It is appropriate to talk about cricket in Zimbabwe because the ECB is holding a wake for cricket today—the annual meeting with county cricketers at Lord's. In the light of that, I hope that UK citizens will peacefully demonstrate against the 2003 summer tour of Zimbabwe to England and oppose the England cricket team going to Zimbabwe in 2004.

I have tabled three early-day motions about cricket in the past six months: early-day motions 458, 549, and 718. I shall not read them out, but I will explore the issues raised in early-day motion 718. I have been trying to take the ECB and the International Cricket Council to court. That was not so difficult with the ECB, because its constitution is so appalling and contains some flaky sentences. It was clear that we had a case and that we would win, which is partly why the ECB withdrew from the tour of Zimbabwe. For example, it said that all cricketers had an interest in the game, but it was not in the interests of the game for people to go to Zimbabwe. There were clearly major holes in the constitution.

What got my goat was that Tim Lamb would not make public the amount of risk insurance that the ECB had taken out for cricketers and county cricketers. Ultimately, county cricket depends on the television and sponsorship rights negotiated by the ECB. The ECB said that it would lose –10 million, but I suspect that that was untrue and that the real loss would be slightly less than –2 million. Tim Lamb would not make public the amount of risk insurance taken out or, indeed, whether he had taken any out for the players. Nasser Hussain took that up with the ECB. I look forward to being corrected publicly if I am wrong about the ECB in that respect.

Tim Lamb was fond of saying that he had never met a Minister or debated Zimbabwe with a ministerial team. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward) was rather clever in an article that she wrote in The Guardian, because she managed to finesse the minutes of a meeting between Tim Lamb and Foreign Office representatives. I will not put them all on the public record now because they are already in the Library. However, I shall read out one or two paragraphs.

Paragraph 4 of the minutes prepared by officials states: Mr Lamb asked whether we could foresee a situation where HMG might wish the tour to Zimbabwe to be cancelled. You said that we had not yet consulted Ministers, but given the Government of Zimbabwe's human rights record, HMG might well find it difficult to accept that an England cricket team should play in Zimbabwe You said that the MDC and civil society in Zimbabwe might also consider that World Cup matches would give credibility, and so aid and comfort, to the Mugabe regime. Paragraph 5 states: Mr Lamb said that the ECB had to write to the ICC by 8 July … giving preliminary views on whether they were willing to play in Zimbabwe. He understood the problems, but did not wish to be the one to pull the plug at this stage. He asked if we might suggest language he could use, without attribution, with the ICC. I attach a copy of the exchange of e-mails. So, there was collusion.

Finally, paragraph 6 states: Mr Lamb's bottom line was that he would accept HMG's advice closer to the time, and would consult again Indeed, the Zimbabwe option might disappear before then, especially if the media group due to televise the matches in Harare and Bulawayo … chose not to do so. So much for the ECB's spin that it did not get advice from the Foreign Office.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Given what the hon. Gentleman has just read, why did the previous Minister of State, who drew the short straw last time and took part in the debate in December, say that his view that the English cricket team should not play in Zimbabwe was a personal one? Why did he write in his local newspaper that the Government did not have a view at that time?


That is a matter for the Minister, but I see the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making.

The ICC is a body of secrecy. Through my solicitor, Jonathan Haydn-Williams of Taylor Wessing, I have tried to get the ICC to publish its articles of association, but it has refused to do so—not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. It is based at Lord's and says that it is the governing body of cricket, but it is not. It is the most appalling association I have ever come across. It will not release its articles of association—what is it afraid of? There must be something in the articles that would make it vulnerable to a legal challenge in the High Court.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the Zimbabwe tour going ahead this year? Does he agree that if that tour is cancelled, we should invite the Kenyans over? They have done extremely well and taken a robust view of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Wyatt

I am not in favour of Zimbabwe playing cricket here in the summer, but I would welcome the Kenyans with open arms.

I have been looking into money laundering for several years. Four Members of Parliament who had made various comments and allegations about laundered money in Switzerland went to Zurich last year. As hon. Members will remember, the Abacha money was found at UBS in Switzerland, as was the Marcos money, so we went to UBS expecting to find Mugabe's laundered money. As guests of the British-Swiss chamber of commerce, we spent a morning with the due diligence team at UBS. It had recorded more than 8,000 contact lists, which included the names of the Mugabe families and Mugabe's civil servants and ministers. The bank had traced every lead, but it did not have one lead on the missing money. Of course, we asked, "Where is the money?", and without blinking the bank's representatives said, "It is in either the Isle of Man or the City of London."

As a consequence of the amount of criticism that UBS has received, it has taken the lead in saying, "If there are any ethics to this banking business, why do we not agree to sign some sort of statement about laundered money?" To date, only one bank in Britain, HSBC, has signed such a statement, yet there are thousands of banks in the City, and I hope that many more of them will be persuaded to sign it.

Yesterday, my staff and I phoned the usual suspects asking where Mugabe's missing billions could be. There was widespread acceptance among the majority of those to whom we spoke that Mugabe and his associates' funds are mainly held in Malaysia. I have been to the Isle of Man to try to find leads, but that is fairly new information, and we are grateful to Transparency International for helping us to find that out.

Figures cited by the The Sunday Telegraph on 3 March 2002 suggest that the amount of money laundered by ZANU-PF might exceed $100 million, although I think that the figure is nearer $4 billion. The newspaper's sources suggest that about $5 million has passed through the Channel Islands. It has also been suggested that Malaysia is a logical place to store the funds. If one traces the number of visits that Mugabe makes to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it is revealing and makes me think that the funds are in Malaysia. I hope that, in summing up, the Minister will say exactly what sort of pressure we should now put on the Malaysian Government to come clean and say whether Mugabe has laundered money there. In particular, what powers does the general secretariat of the Commonwealth have with respect to money laundering either in Zimbabwe or Malaysia? Both countries are members of their respective regional branches of the Financial Action Task Force. Malaysia belongs to the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, and Zimbabwe belongs to the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group. If the reports are correct, both countries are in violation of the charters of those groups.

The United Kingdom has been granted observer jurisdiction over both groups, which means that we are to highlight any problems in them. I would like to know when those meetings will start, who will represent us at them and when we will start to ask questions about the whereabouts of Mugabe's money, because it is vital that we turn off that supply of funds.

We talked to Krall International, the company mentioned in the Sunday Telegraph article, which had been employed by the Financial Services Authority to find Mugabe's assets. It said that it had never been asked to carry out such a task. Christie Lorgen, deputy head of the African department, states that no such business had been tendered by the FSA and that, to her knowledge, no such investigation was being undertaken by any private company. Will the Minister tell us what role the FSA might have in finding laundered money, both in the City and in the global marketplace?

Both the MDC and the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust have offered encouragement for our position on Mugabe's money laundering and believe that successfully freezing his assets would considerably hinder his domestic and international position. The Zimbabwe Democracy Trust also recommends that we push for banks to accept a corporate social responsibility through both positive and negative media exposure. Does the Minister intend to ask Barclays to undertake the same UBS forensic examination of Mugabe's funds and perform the same due diligence? There is concern that there may be laundered money from Mugabe in Barclays bank. What does the Minister have at his disposal to order banks registered in the UK and the Isle of Man to perform the same forensic due diligence that UBS performs?

I hope that the cricketers come to their senses at Lord's today, and that considerable pressure is put on the executive of the ECB, which has done great damage to national and international cricket. I hope also that the Minister will tell us in his concluding remarks what rights and powers he has to examine the issue of laundered money in Malaysia.

10 am

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

Before I start, I should declare a slight family interest in the issue. My great-great uncle led Cecil Rhodes into what later became Rhodesia many years ago.

We heard my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) talk about the shocking statistics from Zimbabwe today. I shall not go through them again at length, but four of them stuck out starkly: about 7.2 million people rely on food aid; 35 per cent. of the population are infected with the HIV virus—some 2.2 million people; a third of all those under 15 are orphans—around 600,000 people; and the unemployment rate is 70 per cent.

Commenting on his recent report on Zimbabwe, James Morris, the head of the World Food Programme, said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February that nationwide shortages of basic commodities and fuel, high parallel market prices and runaway inflation are a formula for disaster. More than half of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are now living with the threat of starvation We are seeing hunger-related diseases. Children have dropped out of schools. Desperate families in rural Zimbabwe have resorted to eating wild fruits and tubers, some poisonous. just to survive. The government has declined permission for us to conduct nutritional surveys that would help target what resources we have to the hardest hit areas … Food is seen as weapon in domestic politics. That is surely the most damming indictment possible of what is going on in Zimbabwe today.

We probably all agree that the UK cannot act to solve the situation on its own, not least because of our colonial past. However, I share the great disquiet of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), and doubtless of hon. Members on both sides of the House, about the Government's recent actions with regard to the cricket tour. There should have been a far more robust stance. It is difficult to imagine the despair of the opposition and those suffering in Zimbabwe when they see the UK Government's apparent acceptance of our cricketers going to Zimbabwe and the comfort that that would have brought to the regime. When the Minister replies, will he say where the Department of Trade and Industry stands on sponsorship and trade with Zimbabwe?

The UK cannot sort out the problem on its own. What other institutions are left to us with which we can work to try to do something about the desperate situation in Zimbabwe? First, there is the Commonwealth—the historic association to which Zimbabwe has belonged, although it is, of course, currently suspended, and of which Britain is the head. I must say, however, that the Commonwealth has badly failed the people of Zimbabwe. During the elections—the Commonwealth's chance to show whether Zimbabwe's Government had democratic legitimacy—it sent only 42 observers to that country. I do not believe that there were enough observers or that they could do their job properly.

The troika that the Government appointed, comprising the Prime Minister of Australia and the Presidents of Nigeria and Kenya, has not found unanimity. Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo, almost unbelievably, say that things are getting better and recommend Zimbabwe's reinclusion in the Commonwealth. That is staggering. It shows clearly that, sadly, the Commonwealth will not be the vehicle that we might have hoped would solve the Zimbabwe situation.

What of the European Union? In recent weeks we have seen President Mugabe come to Europe, to Paris, despite—I have to say this in defence of the UK Government—strong protests on their part that visit should not go ahead. Nevertheless, President Mugabe came to France, and it is difficult to underestimate the despair that that must have caused among those suffering in Zimbabwe. I understand that the common position on Africa adopted in February 2002 has a get-out clause in respect of travel to the EU, in that article 3.3 says that member states may permit Ministers to come to the EU on the grounds of attending meetings of international bodies or conducting political dialogue that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe". Sadly, we must conclude that too many EU countries are trying to pursue their own African agenda for us to be able to look with any hope or confidence to the EU as a solution to the problem.

What of the African institutions to which we might look? The Government have tried to work with the South African Development Community and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD. That is a subsidiary of the Organisation of African Unity, within which there is a peer review mechanism to which countries can subject themselves. I believe that that mechanism is fatally flawed, not least because of the strong involvement in the OAU of Libya, which is one of Zimbabwe's greatest supporters in Africa. The peer review mechanism gives us no grounds for hope with regard to intervention to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe.

President Mbeki, who is the current president of the Non-Aligned Movement and a member of the Commonwealth troika, has, almost unbelievably, secured Mr. Mugabe a unanimous vote of confidence from that organisation. That fairly shocking fact means that we cannot look to that group of nations either.

That leaves the United Nations and the World Food Programme as the only international bodies with a chance of getting the international community together to do something about Zimbabwe.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will make it clear that when we say "we", we are talking about the people of Zimbabwe as well as people in this country who are concerned about them. Will he also mention in passing the Churches, which more than 20 years ago spent much time raising awareness of what conditions were like for them? Some are now speaking out bravely, but many others have been cowed and intimidated.

Andrew Selous

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is right that there are brave groups outside the state in Zimbabwe that are trying to administer food aid. There are also brave Church leaders, although sadly some are complicit with the Mugabe regime. I understand that the diocese of Rochester recently broke its links with the diocese of Harare because it felt that that diocese was too close to the Government and not acting in the interests of the people of the diocese.

Mr. Luff

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that the opposition to the regime of Robert Mugabe, who I think claims still to be a Roman Catholic, is being led very bravely by the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe?

Andrew Selous

My hon. Friend's point is extremely well made. I hope that the UN will grasp the nettle. We saw it falter at the last hurdle with regard to Iraq, but I hope that it will rise to the challenge posed by the desperate humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. I believe that The United Nations Development Programme, which has representatives on the ground, should go into Zimbabwe with the food that is required to assist the 7.2 million people about whom we have heard repeatedly this morning.

The argument always advanced is that of sovereignty: that the UN cannot interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation. With regard to sovereignty and democratic legitimacy, I noted that Baroness Park, when initiating a recent debate on the issue in the House of Lords, said that originally there had been 5.2 million Zimbabweans on the electoral register, but that that figure had increased miraculously to 5.6 million just before the general election—an extra 400,000 voters had been "created". However, in August 2002 the census for Zimbabwe showed only 4.2 million adults. The information that has emerged since that general election shows that even if there had been the faintest belief that the general election was legitimate, the rigging of the figures in the electoral registers shows that it was not. The Government of Zimbabwe have no democratic legitimacy.

The world must address the issue of sovereignty. I commend the writings of two able and active Conservatives, James Mawdsley, the former human rights campaigner from Burma, and Ben Rogers, who argued recently that sovereignty lies not only with the Government of a country, but with its people, and that when a Government are clearly abusing the best interests of its people—as is evidently the case in Zimbabwe—institutions such as the UN have the right to intervene.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy with regard to Zimbabwe. I do not believe that if a white regime in Africa were behaving towards its people in such a way, the situation would have been allowed to continue. Why were there marches on the streets when the Selous scouts were in Zimbabwe, but none now with the green bombers? Many in the UK should ask themselves that question.

10.12 am
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I add my thanks to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) for initiating this debate and ensuring that, despite everything that is going on in the Gulf, people do not forget what is happening in Zimbabwe.

I will not add anything to the list of horrors that has been put forward by the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. I agree with everything that has been said so far. My first point concerns what is happening in Africa in general. We should start to criticise other African countries. Perhaps for too long we have treated southern African countries, and South Africa in particular, with kid gloves, believing that we should not criticise them because they are African countries and have come through terrible times. However, in the past month, we have seen several organisations pass motions of support for Zimbabwe and call for sanctions to be lifted: the Southern African Development Community on 10 March, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa on 17 March and the Non-Aligned Movement in late February. South Africa has taken the lead on that issue.

There comes a time when, despite the horrors of South Africa and the almost total support that there was for the change in regime and the fact that after many years apartheid was lifted and we had a democratic Government, sometimes we must be honest with our friends. The role of President Mbeki and the South African Government has been quite shameful. The British Government have a special responsibility: we cannot ignore the fact that we were the old colonial power. Some argue that that makes it more difficult for us to get involved, but I believe it gives us a special responsibility.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

When some of us met the Zimbabwean high commissioner recently, we expressed our serious concerns about conditions in that country. The response was the point that my hon. Friend makes. First, there were no problems, and in so far as there were problems, they were all due to Britain not facing its responsibilities from its colonial history. Would she agree that although our colonial history is responsible for much, there is no excuse for the Zimbabwean Government to starve their people and have unfair elections or for the horrific human rights abuses that we see there? They already say that we poke our nose into everything that they do and use that as part of their propaganda both within the country and across wider Africa. What is the answer?

Kate Hoey

I thank my hon. Friend. That is precisely why it is crucial that we do not exercise double standards as a Government when we deal with a country, whatever its regime, whatever its colour. We must be committed to democracy. We must make the effort now to put pressure on other southern African countries Our real power, which the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) mentioned, is in the New Partnership for Africa's Development. It is supposed to incorporate best government, peer review and democracy.

The Minister is aware that NEPAD will be discussed at the G8 meeting in June. I urge him and all his officials to ensure that between now and then we push hard a dialogue with African leaders, pointing out to them that they must take a firm stance. They must condemn Mugabe's use of violence and other means of oppression as well as the disastrous economic policies. If African nations fail to take such action, the Government should commit themselves to bringing the whole NEPAD process to a halt at the G8 meeting. Only when we mean what we say about Zimbabwe and really do something will it address the minds of some of those leaders.

What is happening with NEPAD? Why is it being supported when its African partners who are committed on paper to good government have repeatedly gone into print in support of Mugabe, despite all the killings and the maiming of people that have been described this morning? At the forefront of that will be the position of South Africa. President Mbeki and his wife spent a day at Chequers just a few weeks ago, yet we have not heard whether there was any push on him about what was happening. I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity to hammer home to him the importance of his attitude towards what is happening in Zimbabwe. I know that he wanted to discuss Iraq and to try to persuade the South African Government that the war was justified. He obviously did not manage to do that, but neither did he manage to raise the question of Zimbabwe in any serious way, and that concerns me.

We must stop adopting double standards and we must stop apologising for south African countries. I heard Mike Soper, the vice-chairman of the ECB, on the radio this morning talking about cricket. I know Mike Soper well because he used to be the chairman of Surrey until he gave that up to become vice-chairman of the ECB. He might have handled the matter slightly differently from the current chairman of the ECB, had he been elected. He said this morning that the voice of Nelson Mandela made a great difference to attitudes in South Africa. When Nelson Mandela said that it was all right to go to Zimbabwe, all the liberals who felt so strongly about Nelson Mandela stepped back. That is a real shame, because no one can underestimate the importance of Nelson Mandela to the struggle in South Africa, but it is sad that everyone feels that they must remain silent because Nelson Mandela has spoken.

I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). However, I go further: no one who watches the two test matches and the other matches will enjoy them knowing that the lives of some of the Zimbabwean players have been threatened. I pay tribute to Henry Olongo and Andy Flower and the other players who worked behind the scenes without publicity and who took action to show that they knew that their country was not a democracy. I would like the Government to go upfront on this, not to sit back and pass the buck as usual when it comes to sport and politics. The Government should say that they do not want Zimbabwe to tour. We think of the headlines "Relief for ECB as Zimbabwe agrees to honour tour" and "English cricket's financial worries eased yesterday." Is that what it is all about? I would like my Government to tell the cricket authorities that they do not want Zimbabwe to tour and to urge everyone not to attend the matches. I hope that they will cancel the tour.

It would be terrific if we could get Kenya to come instead. That would show Africa that countries that stand out against the majority can gain by taking that approach. I hope that the Minister will say something on that. It is not good enough to say that such matters are for the Minister for Sport. The Minister for Sport said, "It's not up to me; it's up to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office." We cannot keep passing the buck. Zimbabwe should not tour, and none of those who have bought a ticket should attend the matches. That would be one small gesture that all those in this country who condemn Zimbabwe's behaviour could make.

10.23 am
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) on securing the debate and bringing to our attention the desperate situation in Zimbabwe, which the contributions so have graphically illustrated. Recent reports have shown that there has been acceleration in the violation of human rights in Zimbabwe and that attempts have been made to expand the abuse of power; fears are growing of widespread famine and disease. We should remind ourselves that that is the doing of a corrupt and vicious regime orchestrated by President Mugabe.

The Movement for Democratic Change pointed out that the war in Iraq is being ruthlessly exploited by Mr. Mugabe to unleash unprecedented assaults against his opponents while the attention of the world is focused elsewhere. Other hon. Members have pointed that out. The statistics make chilling reading. Using the powers that the regime has granted to itself under the Public Order and Security Act and after the two-day national strike organised by the MDC, the regime arrested more than 500 MDC supporters and officials. At least 1,000 of its supporters have been driven from their homes, and more than 250 people were so badly beaten that they had to be admitted to hospital, many with broken bones. Not only men, but mothers and children, suffered torture by electric shock and cigarette burns. It is important to repeat that women—mothers, teenagers, and in some cases little girls—were subjected to rape by rifle barrels. That is an appalling record of atrocities and it is wholly unaccetable. As the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said, Mr. Mugabe now boasts that he will not hesitate to act like a black Hitler when it comes to crushing his opponents.

There are indications of further manoeuvres by Mr. Mugabe to expand his abuse of power. Some analysts say that Mugabe would step down but for the slight impediment that if he did, the constitution would require an election for a new president—an election that his supporters might not win. He might be persuaded to go if power could be transferred to a chosen crony in ZANU-PF, but that would need a change in the constitution, for which ZANU-PF would need a greater majority than it currently commands in the Zimbabwean Parliament. That is why the by-elections recently held in the Harare suburbs were so important: victories for ZANU-PF would have been vital to secure the ability to change the constitution. Thankfully, those victories have been denied it.

The latest figures from the United Nations on the humanitarian disaster, which hon. Members have confirmed, are that probably two thirds of Zimbabwe's population are on the verge of starvation and the AIDS epidemic is reaching such proportions that it is overwhelming the country's medical resources. The figures are always vague so one can never be sure, but it appears that between 600,000 and 800,000 young Zimbabweans are AIDS orphans—about one in 15 of the population. That is a huge burden for any country to cope with, let alone a country such as Zimbabwe, which has been stripped almost bare of its resources by Mugabe.

As the Minister will confirm, the United Kingdom Government have extended their funding programmes for food aid to mid-2003 through the World Food Programme and non-governmental organisations. The aim is to feed about 90 per cent. of the starving people in Zimbabwe; the question is whether the food is reaching the needy, or being diverted to ZANU-PF supporters or even to the black market. The Government discount reports that, for example, Save the Children sacks of cereal are going straight to the black market and not to the starving, on the grounds that once the aid has been delivered, the empty sacks are recycled and used a second, third or fourth time for carrying cereals and other things. How does that explain reliable reports that Save the Children lorries loaded with food aid are being driven off by ZANU-PF supporters, or that the aid is being distributed by organisations headed by ZANU-PF MPs? The Government's assurances are not convincing.

Action is being taken throughout the international community—by the United Nations, which has been mentioned, the United States, the European Union, the Commonwealth and national Governments. International lawyers argue that the United Nations' ability to intervene directly in situations such as Zimbabwe is constrained by its charter. According to the lawyers, it can be argued that the murders, however atrocious, and the attacks, however appalling, on MDC supporters are politically motivated, not ethnic genocide, although it could equally be argued that much political support in Zimbabwe is tribally based. In Matabeleland, some appalling mass murders were committed, which I am sure were directly related to tribal connections with a political party.

The repression and human rights abuses are currently contained within Zimbabwe. It is argued that the scope for UN action is limited unless and until the trouble spreads to the neighbouring countries, although the increasing exodus of refugees and food shortages in neighbouring countries mean that the problems are clearly mounting and UN intervention may become more justifiable.

Criticism from the United States is mounting and the US sanctions regime is tightening, which is a good example for all to follow. As late as 28 March, the European Union issued a strongly worded statement—I paraphrase it to save time, but it is important to get the essential message across that it strongly condemns the unprecedented violence and repression against the opposition after the protest actions of 18 and 19 March. The EU is especially concerned about the recent events and condemns the wave of arbitrary arrests of approximately 400 opposition supporters, many of whom have suffered ill treatment and even torture by security forces. The EU reiterates its call on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect human rights, to cease immediately its campaign of violent repression and to call to account those responsible for the use of violence and torture. Those are fine words, to which all would sign up, but we are looking for something more positive.

We should put it on record that the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, has been acting with great courage in recent days to stop Zimbabwe being readmitted to the Commonwealth at the end of its year-long suspension. Other hon. Members have mentioned attempts by President Mbeki of South Africa and President Obasanjo of Nigeria to have Zimbabwe readmitted; they appear to have been thwarted, at least for the time being.

President Mugabe has clearly failed even to attempt to address the concerns set out by the Commonwealth last year, so from my perspective there can be no question of Zimbabwe being readmitted. I believe that a report from the secretariat, which is expected to be issued this week, will state conclusively that the Zimbabwe Government have maintained state-sponsored human rights abuses throughout the country's suspension. There are encouraging signs that the Commonwealth will not split along north-south ethnic lines when it considers whether Zimbabwe's suspension should be continued. The new Government in Kenya and the Government of Ghana have shown that their support for Mugabe is not blind and may be weakening. Caribbean Government members have been appalled by the treatment of Henry Olonga during the recent cricket world cup because he had the audacity to show his disagreement with Mugabe's regime.

Those are positive signs, but they raise the question what positive action our Government are taking to bring pressure to bear on Mr. Mugabe. The Government are on the record as working through quiet diplomacy to try to resolve the problem, but to what effect? As do many hon. Members, I accept that direct intervention in Zimbabwe by the British Government or their agencies cannot be sensibly considered in today's world, but the Liberal Democrats are calling for no further exemptions to travel bans for international meetings, because such exemptions merely undermine our position and that of the EU. Exemptions should be allowed only for meetings relating to the alleviation of the current crisis. We also believe that sanctions should be made wider and deeper, and neighbouring countries encouraged to take up the travel ban in the southern African region.

Hon. Members have referred to NEPAD—the New Partnership for Africa's Development—and the fact that it has set out some high principles or targets for a modern, new Africa in which African countries take their destiny in their own hands rather than relying on support, intervention and so on from the west; we should all subscribe to that set of principles. However, it is incumbent on NEPAD to tackle the situation in Zimbabwe on its own initiative and to spread best practice in human rights and good governance through peer example and peer pressure. The organisation should be encouraged to do that. It is not enough, as some members of NEPAD have said recently, to rely on the ex-colonial powers to intervene when internal conflicts arise.

There is a case from which everyone, especially those who lead NEPAD, should draw a lesson. The French Government were recently invited to help to mediate to resolve the rebellion in Ivory Coast. We all saw the results: the inflammation of an already serious situation, many thousands of refugees, and the resident French nationals, who were such an important part of a previously thriving economy, fleeing Ivory Coast. It is not enough for leading politicians in Africa to pass the buck back to the ex-colonial powers when they find an inernal conflict that peer pressure cannot resolve. The Liberal Democrats call on the Government to spearhead an initiative to encourage African nations to abide by the commitments under NEPAD and to bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe.

Finally, I have three questions to ask the Minister, to which I hope he will find the time to reply when he makes his concluding remarks. Given the importance of South Africa in resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe, what action is being taken to limit the extent to which that country's opposition to the continuation of Commonwealth sanctions hinders the search for a solution? What monitoring mechanisms are the Government using to assess the success or otherwise of our food relief programmes? What action is being taken to investigate allegations against British-based companies involved in Mugabe's Government's exploitation of the Congo's natural resources?

10.36 am
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) on securing this important debate and on the way in which he introduced it. His argument was persuasive and compelling, and the evidence that he adduced was harrowing.

The debate is crucial because of what is happening in Zimbabwe and why it is happening now. It is wrong that, once again, a member of the Opposition has initiated the debate. It always appears to be the Opposition who bring the matter before us. The debate should have been on a Government motion and it should have taken place in the main Chamber. We once used an Opposition day to debate the subject on the Floor of the House, but the Government have never provided a similar debate. I say to the Minister in all seriousness that until they do, no one will believe that the Government take the situation in Zimbabwe seriously. I say that more in sorrow than in anger, because for the Government Zimbabwe appears to be a problem to be swept under the carpet.

Two years ago, the Prime Minister claimed that he had a moral duty to act. Instead, as we saw during the cricket world cup fiasco, the Government have too often timidly walked by on the other side. They are still doing so. They connived in the technical arrangement that allowed the French to invite Mugabe to visit Paris in February—not that the travel ban was exactly a great and raging success—and since then they have done nothing to bring genuine pressure to bear on Mugabe. They have never explained what the Prime Minister meant in his conference speech two years ago when he said that he would not tolerate the behaviour of Mugabe's henchmen.

Last July, I went to Zimbabwe and saw the horror, fear and ethnic cleansing of black farm workers thrown out of their homes without their property. Above all, I witnessed their sense of betrayal at the hands of the British. The abuse of power in Zimbabwe is not temporary or moderate. As Amnesty International says: there seems to be no limit on how far the government will go to suppress opposition and to maintain its power. That is the reality. I was not surprised when the very courageous MDC MP, Roy Bennet, who is no stranger to beatings and imprisonment, said: we feel forgotten by the rest of the world. Mugabe is getting away with murder, torture and rape, and no-one is taking a blind bit of notice. That is why I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire for raising the matter today in this debate. I just wish that the Government were doing more.

The horrors in Zimbabwe are getting worse. In the past two weeks there has been a massive increase in state-sponsored violence and intimidation. It is no coincidence that the upsurge has come when the world's media are concentrating on Iraq and during the two by-elections for seats that, thank goodness, the MDC held. The smoke of war—even a distant war—has provided cover behind which Mugabe's brutality has grown and flourished. Yesterday's by-elections in Kuwadzana and Highfield, although fantastic victories for the MDC, were marred by Government vote-rigging, false voter-registration of the sort to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) referred, and vicious intimidation. The MDC won the by-elections, but by his brutal attempts to steal those contests, Mugabe gave notice that he is determined to use any means to achieve the five parliamentary wins that he needs constitutionally to entrench his vile dictatorship. No wonder he describes himself as Africa's Hitler. We have heard again today of the arrest of the vice-president of the MDC.

Government-sponsored violence has spiralled since the Iraq war began. In addition to the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of black farm workers and the state-provoked and politically directed mass starvation, there are now false prosecutions, murders, the official use of sexual assault and rape as weapons of intimidation, and increasingly vicious beatings. The violent Government reaction to the stay-away two weeks ago has signalled the end of even more human rights in Zimbabwe. The voices of Zimbabwe's people tell us they are angry, hungry and at the end of their tether. If the international community does not act, I fear that the law-abiding, decent, peace-loving people of Zimbabwe, black and white alike, will take the law into their own hands. All the ingredients for an enormous humanitarian disaster are present. We could not walk away from such a conflagration.

Zimbabwe is at the front line of the food crisis. The World Food Programme estimates that 7.2 million people there are vulnerable; that number has increased by 1 million in the past six months. Food production has dropped to about one third of previous years' levels and 34 per cent. of the adult population are now infected with HIV/AIDS. On top of that is oppression. The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and his MDC party have reached the limit of what they can legally do to try to force the Government to change. Since the recent strikes, at least 1,000 people have been arrested, assaulted and hounded from their homes.

What has been our response? Baroness Amos said last week: The United Kingdom Government are working with our EU partners on a statement condemning the action which has been taken".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 March 2003; Vol. 646, c. 948.] They are working on a statement of condemnation. Mugabe's thugs are not working on a statement; they are working over the opposition. The time for statements is long gone—we need action.

The United States has just signed a new and broad sanctions order. Will we now toughen up EU sanctions? Presumably the Government received some promises in return for their surrender to France over Mugabe's recent visit to Paris. We need harsh, targeted sanctions, which should include the families of regime members and the regime's financial backers, freezing the assets of those people as well as banning travel. As hon. Members have said, we must also use the leverage of NEPAD.

Beyond that, the problem of Zimbabwe needs urgently to be internationalised. Several hon. Members have referred to that. We need United Nations action. Last week, Baroness Amos last week expressed her regret that Zimbabwe does not pose a challenge to international security and peace and hence remains a domestic issue in which the UN cannot intervene. I have to say that I totally disagree. Its geographical position means that the impact of Zimbabwe's escalating crisis will extend well beyond its borders. It will destabilise Zimbabwe's immediate neighbours, particularly South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique, by driving thousands of refugees into those countries. A political scientist of the university of Zimbabwe, Masipula Sithole has said: Given its pivotal position, Zimbabwe has the potential to destabilise SADC"— Southern African Development Community— both economically and politically on a much wider scale. If that is not the definition of an international problem, I do not know what is.

I should like to see a United Nations Security Council resolution—for which there are many good precedents under article 2.7 of the UN charter—condemning what is happening in Zimbabwe and calling for international monitoring of humanitarian aid and its distribution. That would be a start. If such a resolution were firm enough, as others have been in the past, it could also deal with refugees and ethnic cleansing. Will the Government table such a resolution before the Security Council?

The SADC, especially South Africa, the region's economic powerhouse, should take more resolute action. Morgan Tsvangirai stated last week that the MDC is willing to enter talks on how to solve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis, but the signs are not hopeful. Following last week's strike, President Mugabe called the MDC a terrorist organisation and vowed that it would be crushed. Nevertheless, I believe that this is a time for renewed effort. Even President Mbeki of South Africa—the country that holds the key to pressurising Mugabe and Zimbabwe—has at last condemned the violent crackdown in Zimbabwe. That is an opening on which we should work.

In his conference speech last year, our Prime Minister talked about a coalition to give Africa hope. Where is that coalition for Zimbabwe? We must start building it now. The Government must act. To stand idly by and watch genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass rape, starvation and torture is no longer an option, if it ever was. We need to get a resolution from the United Nations, to go to the SADC and strike a new alliance, and to return to the EU and toughen the sanctions. Above all we need to give hope back to the people of Zimbabwe.

We acted in Kosovo because of unacceptable floutings of human rights—ethnic cleansing, rape camps, torture chambers and hideous levels of violence. What, in those terms, is different in Zimbabwe? All the same elements are there. The Foreign Secretary might be paralysed by the post-colonial guilt to which he referred in an interview in the New Statesman before Christmas, but that does not mean that the rest of us need be. The oppressed and persecuted people of Zimbabwe, most of them black, see nothing post-colonial in asking us to intervene; rather, they see it as a moral obligation on us to do so and cannot understand why the British Government do not. The Government can act, and even at this desperately late hour, they must act. The time for walking by on the other side is over.

10.45 am
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

This has been a good and powerful debate. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, for compressing his remarks to allow me a full 15 minutes in which to reply to the important points raised. I invite hon. Members to write to me if I fail to do so. There may be technical issues on which a full written response is more appropriate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) on obtaining the debate and on a remarkably powerful speech. He brings to these debates a great knowledge of international development issues and, if I may say so, a moral commitment. I hope that his speech will be widely read in Zimbabwe.

In a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, I read a remarkable essay by Doris Lessing. This was the opening: 'You have the jewel of Africa in your hands,' said President Samora Machel of Mozambique and President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to Robert Mugabe, at the moment of independence, in 1980. 'Now look after it' … Twenty-three years later, the 'jewel' is ruined, dishonoured, disgraced … One man is associated with the calamity, Robert Mugabe. For a while I wondered if the word 'tragedy' could be applied here, greatness brought low, but Mugabe, despite his early reputation, was never great; he was always a frightened little man. There is a tragedy, all right, but it is Zimbabwe's. Mugabe is now widely execrated, and rightly, but blame for him began late. Nothing is more astonishing than the silence about him for so many years. Despite the eloquence of our speeches—we have heard eloquent speeches today—it is the power of a great writer, a woman who has contributed so much to English letters, that I commend to hon. Members if they wish to understand the Zimbabwe situation. She is right to say that we are late in condemning Mugabe.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) referred to his antecedents, in that a great-great uncle led the way for the colonialisation of what became known as Rhodesia. I certainly would have been much happier as a student in the 1960s and a young man in the 1970s had there been some undouble standards on the part of the Conservative party in that period in calling for the freedom of Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman said that it was difficult for the UK alone to solve the problem, because of what he described as our colonial past. He is right. It is not appropriate for the shadow Foreign Secretary simply to wish all that away, because the plain fact is, as Doris Lessing said, that we ignored Mugabe's crimes. We ignored them in the 1980s when he unleashed the notorious 5 Brigade on Matabeleland. At the time, a Conservative Minister defended those actions. We ignored Mugabe as recently as 1994, when the right hon. Member for Devizes was a member of the previous Administration, on the recommendation of which Mugabe was given a knighthood. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman now has discovered that Mugabe, dictatorship and doing wicked things to people are bad. I welcome the Conservative conversion to the position that the Government have always upheld.

We associate ourselves with the speech that Morgan Tsvangirai made yesterday, in which he said: Mugabe can and will indeed torture us, maim us, brutalize us and even kill us, but he can never destroy our resolve, our desire and our demand for change in our lives … As we embark on this final peaceful thrust towards our freedom, we ask the Southern African region, the African continent and the international community to be the arbiters of who will cast the first stone and who are the real perpetrators of violence and crimes against humanity.

Mr. Ancram

The Minister associates himself with Morgan Tsvangirai's remarks from yesterday. What does he intend to do as a result of that association?

Mr. MacShane

I was coming to that. Yesterday, my noble friend Baroness Amos, the Minister with responsibility for African affairs, said in South Africa to a South African audience: One unfortunate consequence of the Zimbabwe situation … is that it makes it more difficult to promote NEPAD. I spend a great deal of time tackling business about Africa. Foreign investors fear that NEPAD won't work. They question whether an African Peer Review Mechanism can really work if African pressure is so low key and so little heeded, as appears to be the case with Zimbabwe. She said that the issue of Zimbabwe bedevils developed country dialogue with Africa and the Commonwealth, SADC and the European Union. The danger is that EU and G8 leaders could lose enthusiasm for the collective approach which is at the heart of NEPAD. That speech has been widely reported in today's South African press.

The Government are trying to take the message about what needs to be done in Zimbabwe to its neighbours, and there has been some movement. Two weeks ago, South Africa's Foreign Minister, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, said that her Government would never condemn Zimbabwe while ZANU-PF is in power. However, last week, on 26 March, President Mbeki said that his Government had said to the Zimbabwean government that we would not agree with actions that deny the right of Zimbabweans to protest peacefully, democratically and so on. That is at least the first statement from the President of South Africa following his discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that moves the South African position a little further forward.

The Government work consistently with the international community, the international financial institutions and the European Union to introduce sanctions that can be imposed on Zimbabwe. I am pleased that the United States has now implemented sanctions such as asset freezing that the European Union initiated. Reference has been made to whether we should impose trade sanctions on Zimbabwe. British Airways continues to fly to Harare, and I have heard no call from Mr. Tsvangirai, the trade unions or the communities that are suffering in Zimbabwe for an increase of that suffering by, for example, cutting off air links to the UK or imposing trade sanctions. The Department of Trade and Industry is not involved in promoting directly business with Zimbabwe.

Kate Hoey

What position will the Government take with regard to NEPAD at the G8 summit in June? Will Baroness Amos's speech in South Africa then be translated into action?

Mr. MacShane

Indeed. We are urging the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe to recognise the need for an African approach. It would not be helpful simply to cut Africa off and say that there will be no more aid or help through NEPAD. We want broad investment in Africa. There are some good examples of that in Tanzania, and the new Government in Kenya are moving in the right direction. I do not agree with my hon. Friend, passionate though her point was, that the answer is to shut down NEPAD or to shut down links and trade and investment with the whole of Africa. That would punish the whole of Africa for Mugabe's crimes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt)—

Mr. Ancram

This is an important point. The American sanctions to which the Minister referred are broader than ours and include those who bankroll Mugabe's regime. Will the Minister give an undertaking that the British Government will seek to extend EU sanctions in the same way to cover those who pay for Mugabe's regime?

Mr. MacShane

I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman. There is an asset freeze, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey made a powerful speech about the problem of worldwide money laundering. He referred to the need for British banks to have regard to some of the money that is being transmitted through their branches here and in other countries. He asked about the role of the Financial Services Authority and he referred to Malaysia. He is right to draw attention to the fact that Mr. Mugabe has visited that country and that people on one of the jets on which he was travelling were interested to see many cartons going back to State House in Harare containing products that had been bought in Malaysia. That suggests that Mr. Mugabe has personal access to funds there.

I shall have to write to my hon. Friend with more detail on the question of money secrecy, which is becoming a major issue. In a different context, that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is trying to promote the exchange of information on European taxation. That is the right way to go. Many Members, principally Opposition Members, have strong contacts in the City and hold directorships there. It would be helpful if they could bring their influence to bear to expose any of the hidden money with which we must deal.

I have an open mind on the issue of cricket. My view is that it would be no bad thing for the Zimbabwe cricket team to come here and face demonstrations and placards and posters, particularly from the many Zimbabwean asylum seekers who, I hope, will receive a warm welcome in this country. They should not be condemned just because they are asylum seekers. When those asylum seekers attend the cricket matches with their posters and placards, television images and photographs of them will be beamed back to Zimbabwe. We all enjoyed the account of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey of how the ECB had discussed and negotiated matters.

The question of whether the English cricket team should go to Zimbabwe in 18 months' time must be discussed. However, we must express hope that perhaps Zimbabwe will have a new Government by then.

Mr. Luff

Will the Minister say something about the UN Security Council before he sits down?

Mr. MacShane

As we speak, the Government are seeking, with friends and partners, to table a resolution on Zimbabwe at the UN Commission on Human Rights. We tried last year, and our attempt was blocked because the whole of Africa refused to vote with us. The fact is that if one wants to get anything through the UN one must take a majority of countries with one. The problem is that, between independence in 1980 and the development of the Zimbabwe crisis about 18 or 19 years later, there was no public diplomacy by the Government of this country—on Matabeleland or on the growing use of torture and terrorist tactics by ZANU—PF to alert the world to the crisis and tragedy of Zimbabwe. I hope that public opinion is slowly changing.

Reference was made to Mr. Mugabe's visit to Paris, which we deplored. However, I was glad to see that French newspapers, for the first time to my knowledge, carried accounts by farmers who had been expelled from their lands of what the Mugabe regime had done. French newspapers carried editorials condemning the invitation that the French Government had offered. Bit by bit, through the EU, the Commonwealth—I commend the position taken by Mr. McKinnon—the United States and the wider international community, we are seeking to internationalise the dispute. We can take this forward only through concrete action by the Government.

I welcome the debate and I welcome the points made by all hon. Members. However, I wish that some of them would apologise for the complacent appeasement that they offered to Mr. Mugabe between 1980 and 1997. The Government are firmly committed to the concept of democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.

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