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Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the implications for security in Africa of UK policy towards the regime in Zimbabwe. [111599]

The United Kingdom wants the restoration of a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. Poor governance in Zimbabwe has reduced foreign investment there, precipitated economic decline and exacerbated political instability. The crisis there has also damaged neighbouring economies. Zimbabwe's inability to pay neighbouring countries for power supplies, and the spread of foot and mouth disease, for example, clearly have major implications for the prosperity of southern Africa generally.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the economy of Zimbabwe is in a state of anarchy and that millions are starving? Is he aware that Opposition MPs have been imprisoned and tortured, and that the leader of the Opposition is on trumped-up charges of treason? Furthermore, the Mbeki mission has ended in farce, yet the United Kingdom Government are sanctioning a cricket tour that can only bolster the Mugabe regime. Surely the time has come for them to start to take Zimbabwe more seriously.

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the state of the economy. Gross domestic product is reckoned to decline by 12 per cent. this year, and to have declined by a quarter over the last four years. The official rate of exchange of the Zimbabwean dollar, which was until recently valued at 50 to the US dollar, is now 800 to the US dollar. The unofficial, black market rate of exchange is 1,500 to the US dollar. That is an indication of the wreckage that President Mugabe has produced from that once extremely prosperous and potentially very prosperous country.

So far as the cricket tour is concerned, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that we are of course as committed as he is, and feel as strongly as he does, about the need to bring pressure to bear on the Zimbabwe regime. However, I have always taken the view that, even if we had the power to stop sportspeople from Zimbabwe visiting, we would be punishing ordinary Zimbabweans rather than punishing the regime.

The hon. Gentleman talks about chaps who wear black armbands. Henry Olonga—

Henry Olonga is a great man. He told theDaily Mail just the other day:

"It is right for the cricketers of my country to be here"
in the United Kingdom.

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope that the leaders of the African union are beginning to realise the adverse effect of what is happening in Zimbabwe on the perception of Africa generally. How important does my right hon. Friend consider the current initiative by the Presidents of South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria? I refer to their visit to Zimbabwe, which I think was scheduled for yesterday.

I have yet to receive a full report of the visit, but I have no doubt that those three Heads of Government, and indeed virtually all Heads of Government across the continent of Africa, are fully aware of the damage that the Mugabe regime has caused to Zimbabwe, to the South African region and to the reputation of Africa generally. The issue between us often relates to tactics and how best to put pressure on the Mugabe regime, but I think everyone can see that whatever "consent" the regime may once have had is rapidly dissolving before our eyes.

Does the Foreign Secretary share the regret felt by many that President Mugabe has been unwilling to step aside? Is not the cruel truth that the failures of Mugabe's Government are a blight on the whole of southern Africa, and inevitably affect the levels of support and investment that the developed world gives the region—which in turn undermines NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development? Is it not outrageous that some of the poorest people in Africa must pay for the excesses of the Mugabe Government?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. James Morris, director of the World Food Programme—who briefed the United Nations Security Council on 7 April—described the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe as "almost beyond comprehension".

We are determined that the Zimbabwe crisis should not undermine NEPAD, although it has certainly not made NEPAD's implementation any easier.

Yesterday's visit to Zimbabwe by the three African Presidents was a belated but nevertheless welcome initiative, although the outcome was predictably disappointing. Is not the key element of any solution, quite simply, the restoration of the democracy and rule of law destroyed by Mugabe, and is it not true that progress will not be made until Government-sponsored rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and starvation are ended?

Is it not the case that this is no longer just a domestic problem, but a matter of regional security and a humanitarian crisis? Is there not a role for the United Nations Security Council to play in coming to grips with it? Will the Foreign Secretary, even at this late date, shake off his self-confessed post-colonial guilt, take the initiative of the Security Council, and stop passing by on the other side?

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was doing quite well until he reached the last bit, which was rather predictable.

Ask him what he would do! He has not told us what he would do.

My hon. Friend points out—from a sedentary position, but I think everyone could hear because he is a good Essex boy—that the right hon. Gentleman never says what he would do. He mentioned the Security Council. I would be the first to have the matter taken before the Security Council if I felt that there could be a successful outcome, but there is no evidence for that at present, which I greatly regret. If we tried and failed, Mugabe would clearly regard it as a victory for him.

The circumstances are very different from those in Iraq. We are working to put the maximum pressure on Mugabe. Notwithstanding the predictions of Conservative Members, we managed to obtain sanctions supported by the Commonwealth and sanctions supported by the European Union, and to have those sanctions tightened. It is obvious that the pressure is working, and is destabilising the Mugabe regime.

Is it not a tragic fact that what my right hon. Friend has said is an understatement of the current problem of decline in Zimbabwe? Following the recent visit by leaders of other African countries, is it not perhaps time to say to all those in ZANU-PF who recognise that Mugabe's time is up that if they want to save their country, they should tell him that now is the time for him to go if he wants to do likewise, and to stop the appalling decline that we have witnessed in the past few years?