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Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Zimbabwe. I hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and the Liberal Democrats received a copy in good time.

As the Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday, what is happening in Zimbabwe is appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for its people. My noble Friend Lord Triesman, Minister responsible for Africa, noted on 12 March that it was a direct consequence of Mugabe’s own approach and of his disregard for the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. What we are seeing is a wilful waste of Zimbabwe’s assets and potential by a ZANU-PF Government who have substituted plunder and corruption for a programme of economic and social advancement for its people.

Hunger and malnutrition are all that millions of Zimbabweans now experience in their daily lives, and Mugabe and his regime are directly responsible. They are directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s economy being in free fall: the economy shrank by 40 per cent. in less than a decade, and will shrink by a further 5 per cent. this year. Inflation is already at 3,000 per cent., and the International Monetary Fund says that it will breach 5,000 per cent. by the end of this year. They are directly responsible for circumstances in which a quarter of the resident population is dependent on food aid, and a quarter has already fled the country. They are directly responsible for an unemployment rate of over 80 per cent., the third highest in the world. It is little wonder that there has been an exodus over the Limpopo river. They are directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s having the world’s highest orphan rate, largely as a consequence of the pandemic rate of AIDS: roughly 20 per cent. of adults are infected. They are directly responsible for circumstances in which Zimbabweans can expect to die younger than anyone else on the planet. A Zimbabwean woman today can expect to live to just 34, while a Zimbabwean man can expect to live to 37. However, instead of taking the necessary measures to reverse each of those evolving tragedies, the regime continues to make people homeless, suppress independent media, harass human rights defenders and arbitrarily arrest those involved in peaceful demonstrations.

The violence and repression used against peaceful protesters gathering to pray for change during the weekend of 10-11 March, during which at least one young person was shot and killed, has continued unabated. Four members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been prevented from leaving Zimbabwe, including one MP, Nelson Chamisa, who was badly beaten when travelling to a meeting in Brussels. I am pleased to note that the MDC’s vice-president was able to take his place: we salute his bravery and that of his colleagues.

A significant number of activists are still being arrested and beaten throughout Zimbabwe. Lawyers representing those who have been detained have themselves faced intimidation. Trade union and student union members have also been harassed and arrested. My noble Friend Lord Triesman summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to register our disgust,

As I did during my address to the Human Rights Council on 13 March, I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed and injured in the last two weeks of terrible assault, and offer my solidarity to all Zimbabweans on behalf of everyone in the House. Mugabe’s men might break the bones of the democracy campaigners, but they cannot break the quiet dignity of these extraordinary human beings. One day, Zimbabwe will return to democracy; Zimbabweans will be free. Mugabe knows that. He knows that he has got it wrong, and that the crisis has resulted in an increase in internal pressure. He feels more vulnerable. The involvement of the military in almost all aspects of Zimbabwe life—from running state businesses and economic programmes to agriculture and food distribution—underlines that.

What does Mugabe do? He blames everyone else, especially us in the United Kingdom. He persistently alleges that the UK is responsible for Zimbabwe’s woes—that we are somehow victimising him for his disastrous fast-track land reform policies. That is simply not true. We have always recognised the need for an equitable redistribution of land, but that has to be done in a transparent, legal manner. We signed up to all three of the internationally recognised land reform packages: in 1979, 1998 and 2001. The UK gave a total of £44 million to the first of them. About £3 million was returned unspent in the mid-1990s when the Zimbabwean Government lost interest in proper land reform. We were also willing to support the package put together by the United Nations Development Programme in 2001, but Mugabe’s violent land invasions put a halt to that.

Let us look for a moment at Mugabe’s claims that the crisis is down to us. It was his Government—not the UK—who displaced and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 700,000 people during Operation Murambatsvina, which I understand means “drive out the filth”. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who previously refused to appeal to the UN for food aid despite widely reported food shortages. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who have crushed a free media. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who deny Zimbabweans their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly by routinely and violently breaking up peaceful protests. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who have ignored IMF recommendations to reform an imploding economy. It is they who continue to squander the country’s limited foreign exchange while ordinary Zimbabweans can scarcely afford food. It is the Government of Zimbabwe—not the UK—who destroyed property rights by removing land from the legal process. It is they—not the UK—who have ruined the Zimbabwean agricultural sector; agricultural productivity has fallen by a staggering 80 per cent. since 1998.

Since 2000, more than 250,000 black commercial farm workers have lost their livelihoods. Including families, that means that there has been a rural displacement of about 1 million people, to match the urban dislocation of 700,000. Of course, while the Government of Zimbabwe continue to blame the international community, the European Union and the UK Government for their troubles, in each case we are taking action to improve life on the ground for ordinary Zimbabweans.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said last week, there is considerable concern throughout the international community about the situation in Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom is greatly concerned about the situation there, but those concerns are shared by the whole of the European Union, by the African Union—sadly, those concerns have not always been expressed as loudly as they might be—by the United Nations and by the rest of the international community.

Ministers and officials are in constant contact with our African counterparts, emphasising the risks to regional stability and the importance of Zimbabwe’s African neighbours taking a more direct role in addressing the crisis in Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister last week wrote to President Mbeki and spoke with President Kikwete of Tanzania on this issue. We recognise the difficulties in challenging Mugabe bilaterally, but without the engagement of the Southern African Development Community, with its commitment to promoting good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law, the situation will deteriorate further. We therefore welcome the visit of the chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, President Kikwete, to Harare on 15 March. With President Mbeki of South Africa, he has proposed an initiative to encourage internal dialogue between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change on policy reform, but quick progress is necessary if that is to have an impact. Mugabe is a master of denial and delay. The Zambian President has recently called Zimbabwe a “sinking Titanic”—an apt description, indeed.

On the European Union, despite the claims of Mugabe about illegal economic sanctions imposed by the EU, let us be clear: the EU has no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. They exist only in his mind. The EU does not prevent western companies, including British ones, from doing business with Zimbabwe, which in fact has a trade surplus with the UK. The EU does have an arms sales ban, and a travel ban and an assets freeze on leading members of the regime. While those targeted measures have had no impact on the Zimbabwean economy, they show that the EU is serious about human rights. Zimbabwean civil society organisations support those measures because they are focused on the destroyers of Zimbabwean society and not on its suffering people. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House on Tuesday and the Prime Minister repeated the next day, we will look to add to these targeted measures. We are pushing for, and expect there to be, progress on the addition of extra names to the EU visa ban list, again pressurising the regime without impacting on ordinary Zimbabweans.

On the actions of the UK Government, let the House be clear: we are doing all that we can to relieve the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. The UK is one of the three largest donors to Zimbabwe, and, contrary to the claims of some, that money is making a real difference to the lives of ordinary people in Zimbabwe. For some, that money is quite literally the difference between life and death, and the House should be proud of that contribution.

In the past five years, the Department for International Development has committed more than £143 million to humanitarian programmes, including food aid, life-saving vaccines, support for orphans and vulnerable children, and agricultural inputs to the poorest farmers. We have also provided £37 million to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Of the €200 million given by the EU last year, the UK alone disbursed nearly €60 million in bilateral assistance—hardly the actions of a country not interested in the affairs of Zimbabwe; far less one with a bilateral grievance.

As the Foreign Secretary made clear on Tuesday, our aid is channelled through United Nations and NGO agencies to escape the clutches of the regime. I want to stress that our food aid is not a part of the ZANU-PF programme to use food as a means to force support or to punish opposition. It is also clear that not only are innocent Zimbabweans suffering, but the tragedy in Zimbabwe is having a significant impact on the region: both a direct impact with mass migration, and a consequent social impact in terms of HIV, malnutrition, safety and the education of children, to name but a few factors. As Zimbabwe disintegrates, those impacts will increase.

The UK shares the region’s desire to see Zimbabwe’s recovery—there is no other UK agenda. Our concerns are for the ordinary Zimbabweans and their suffering at the hands of a regime determined to pursue policies that hurt rather than help them. We stand ready to help, with our international partners, but only when there is an environment inside Zimbabwe in which that assistance will be effective.

Until the Zimbabwean regime changes course, we will maintain the international spotlight on them, and increase Mugabe’s isolation. In that vein, I welcome France’s decision not to invite Mugabe to the February France-Africa summit, which sent a clear signal that this woeful governance will not be tolerated. However, as I and others, including the Prime Minister, have made clear, the Zimbabwean crisis cannot be solved by the UK. Those sentiments were echoed by the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who told the BBC on 18 March:

“I have repeatedly said that the British government cannot be seen to be at the forefront in confronting Robert Mugabe alone. I’ve always said that that will be misconstrued as a colonial resuscitation of the same situation again. So I always say that Britain, together with the rest of the international community, the African Union, and the rest of the international community have to act together.”

So we in this House and elsewhere must be careful that, while expressing our outrage at recent events and at the downward spiral of Zimbabwe, we do not do or say anything that will hand a propaganda tool to Robert Mugabe. We will continue to exert pressure in international forums, including the United Nations —we expect a tough EU statement on the Human Rights Council this week, and a humanitarian briefing on the UN Security Council next week—the African Union and the European Union, and with international partners, until democracy is restored to Zimbabwe. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that whoever governs Zimbabwe does so in a way that guarantees a better future for all Zimbabweans: a democratic and accountable Government, and policies that ensure economic stability and development, not humanitarian misery.

My generation was the first to be born not as children of the empire, but as children of the Commonwealth. When I first became involved in political life, the struggle against colonialism, and the struggle of the peoples in southern Africa who were subjugated by racist regimes, were an inspiration to me and to my generation. As time went by, we celebrated as Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and the fighters came out of the bush to create a new democratic future for their people.

That is why it is so hard for me personally to watch what is happening in Zimbabwe today. Uniquely, the people whom we once cheered as liberators are now the oppressors who have taken away the voice of the Zimbabwean people. Brave Zimbabweans are speaking up for their freedom. They are looking to their African neighbours to help. We are playing our part in the international community.

In 1980, Zimbabwe proudly proclaimed its independence. Tragically, 27 years later, its people have still to gain their freedom.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the generous amount of time that he allowed the Opposition to have advance sight of his statement. I am sure that the whole House will join him in his condemnation of the Mugabe regime. Like the rest of the international community, we have been shocked by the regime’s brutal tactics, the country’s chronic food shortages and staggeringly high inflation and unemployment, and the increasing Government repression of all forms of dissent.

All Zimbabweans are suffering as a result of the Government-made, deteriorating economic, political and humanitarian situation, which has now become so desperate that Archbishop Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, said last week that he was

“ready to stand in front, even of blazing guns”

to force President Mugabe to step down.

I turn to some specific questions. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the international community’s response to 27 years of Mugabe misrule, although well intentioned, has been unable to prevent the situation from deteriorating, and that decisive action is now needed? Is not it the case that, although the Government have done the things the Minister outlined today, they could have done more? What we are looking for now is that all his good words in the House today are matched by action.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that the UK is pushing for additional EU sanctions. Will they include widening the scope of the assets freeze? We have heard the rumour that the financial sanctions currently affect only 400 bank accounts, covering £210,000. Surely the Government could do more in that respect.

Will people who have residence and visitor’s permits in the UK and who are on the list of banned people have their permits and passports withdrawn? Will the Minister assure the House that no member of ZANU-PF, including President Mugabe and anyone on the EU sanctions list, will be invited to the EU-AU summit in Portugal later this year? If they were, it would make a mockery of the travel bans.

Will the Minister urge Zimbabwe’s neighbours to make a concerted effort to resolve the crisis, and to exploit their many points of influence with the Mugabe regime? Will he now make the case that the consequences of a total collapse in Zimbabwe will fall heavily upon them and their regimes, and will he urge them to put pressure on the Mugabe regime to block the extension of his rule and engage in talks with the Opposition? Can he confirm that the UK is strongly conveying that message, particularly to the Government of South Africa? Is not it vital that the international community present a united front in pursuing a clear strategy that increases the penalties on the Mugabe leadership? Could he have a system of incentives and disincentives clearly linked to sanctions, so that the international community can ratchet up their actions? Can he confirm reports that the UK, along with other nations, is working with moderate members of ZANU-PF to discuss the possibility of agreeing a power-sharing transitional Government? Does he agree that any change in the Government will ultimately come from the actions of the Zimbabwe people themselves? Finally, does he agree that the international community should stand by, ready and planning to work as partners to lift and help Zimbabwe out of the unimaginable poverty in which it finds itself today as soon as genuine partners with whom we can work in Zimbabwe emerge?

Does the Minister agree that, like the iron curtain around the Soviet Union, once the tide starts flowing, it is unstoppable? Is not it high time for the 83-year old Mugabe to retire now?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his positive statement of support for the Government’s strategy. All of us in the House, whatever our political persuasion, want to do everything possible to ensure engagement with South Africa and other front-line states, which is why the steps taken by the Presidents of Tanzania and South Africa in the past few days are important.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is important that Mugabe see that it is not just the west, and Britain in particular, that is trying to get a regime change: it is a matter for the Zimbabwean people and those in the region. When Mugabe goes, he must be replaced with a regime that respects human rights and human dignity, and has the capacity to represent the interests of all Zimbabweans and all civil society.

The hon. Gentleman is right about another matter. Alongside working in that respect, it is important that the international community have a twin-track approach. It is important that Zimbabwe should not implode when its leadership changes. That means working as a united force—the UN, the south African states and the European Union—to ensure that, alongside the transitional change, arrangements are in place, first, to stabilise the country, and, secondly, to ensure that the transition benefits the Zimbabwean people and does not result in further dispersal, dispute and violence. It is important that we do those two things together.

On the targeted measures that the hon. Gentleman raised, I made it absolutely clear that we want to see further targeted measures and we are discussing that with our European Union colleagues and others. It is important that we do so. I will keep the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat spokesman informed—it is not a secret. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, I want to work with every party in the House to ensure that maximum pressure is put on the regime. That means working together and trusting each other to get the best result for the Zimbabwean people. That includes the issues about targeting.

The hon. Gentleman did not raise this point, but in the context of targeted measures, it is important to remember that, as well as a travel ban—I hope that we will add names to the travel ban—there is also an issue about some of the children the regime benefits from. As well as adding other names, it is important to consider seriously whether the children of the worst offenders should be included on the list. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will consider that.

Let us be quite clear that it is critical that the EU-Africa summit take place, because we want to discuss good governance, regional peace and security, development and integration, education, health and immigration in Africa as a whole. We should not let Zimbabwe or Robert Mugabe capture that important agenda. I said what I said about France for a specific reason, and I want to be absolutely clear about it: I want the summit to take place—not as a platform for Mugabe, but as a platform for Africa to work with the European Union. The summit does not take place till November or December, so we should not make hasty decisions. We should work with our colleagues who will have the presidency at that time—the Portuguese Government—to ensure that the EU-African Union summit takes place. I hope that there will be a place there for Zimbabwe, but a different type of Zimbabwe.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Secretary of State found out anything more about the Angolan troop situation? Does my right hon. Friend share my regret at the seeming reluctance of the Commonwealth Secretariat to engage in Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe did not leave the Commonwealth; she was abducted by Mugabe, just as South Africa was abducted by Verwoerd. In the case of South Africa, the Commonwealth never accepted the abduction. The then Prime Minister of Canada said:

“We shall leave a candle in the window for South Africa.”

Why does my right hon. Friend think that the Commonwealth Secretariat has been unwilling to leave a candle in the window for Zimbabwe?

I checked up on the reports about Angola, because it was important to do so. The Angolan authorities tell us that the reports are completely false, but I know that hon. Members raised the issue legitimately and in the right spirit. We went back to our post in Rwanda and spoke to the Angolan authorities who said—I repeat—that the reports about troops were false.

We are working actively with the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is critical that not just the Commonwealth Secretariat, but our colleagues in the Southern African Development Community and in the African Union, along with us in the European Union, make progress over the coming days to get the dialogue going about the situation in Zimbabwe so that it can move on to a new leadership, new politics and a new type society. As I tried to outline in my remarks to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), that should be done in a way that does not undermine further the ability of Zimbabweans to see through the crisis and get to a different place.

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in thanking the Minister for an advance copy of the statement. The Minister has made a powerful case against Mugabe this afternoon and the whole House will be grateful to him for doing that. He did not pull his punches in his description of Mugabe’s monstrous regime. I invite him to be more robust about the countries of southern Africa. Frankly, people are despairing at South Africa’s softly-softly approach, in particular. Notwithstanding what the Minister said about Angola, it is alarmed by the past week’s reports of closer security co-operation between the two countries.

Does the Minister agree that despite the sensitivities—we accept that humanitarian briefings in the Security Council are important—Britain has to force the pace on extending sanctions not only in the European Union, but at the Security Council, so that Mugabe and all his regime can be held to account? It has been reported today that to facilitate Mugabe’s political demise, he might get some sort of deal letting him off the hook for all his crimes against humanity, which would surely be an appalling prospect for all of us. Will the Minister confirm that neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union would support such a tawdry arrangement?

Let me take the hon. Gentleman’s last point first. We are not holding discussions about giving immunity to Mugabe or any other member of the regime. However, our first act must surely be to assist efforts internationally and in the region itself so that we get to a position in which Mugabe is no longer in power. However, that should be achieved by the Zimbabwean people with the support of the international community. That will be an important first step, yet what happens after that, in terms of our contingency planning, ongoing support for the people of Zimbabwe and the problems flowing from the excesses of the regime, is important. I am not dodging the question, but as the hon. Gentleman indicated, we must ensure that South Africa and the other countries in the region—this is critically important—and China and other countries are in a position in which they will come along with ourselves and the European Union on multilateral action to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe once and for all. That is the priority. We must not provide anyone with a loophole or a bolthole so that things become more difficult than they are at the moment.

We will take each step in turn. The first step is to get momentum going with regard to what the hon. Gentleman said. That was why I was robust in negotiations to ensure that the Human Rights Council, which is sitting at the moment, debates Zimbabwe before its session breaks up in June. It will be important for us to pursue the matter in the Security Council early next week—of course, South Africa is its chair at the moment. Over the next few days, it will be critical for us to maintain our pressure on the international community to come together on Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman asks us to be robust. I am robust as any Member, but I am acutely aware that I want to be robust in such a way that it will make a difference. I do not want to be robust and thus give someone an excuse. It is easy to get a clap or a nod of approval in here. As I said in my statement, we should not say or do anything that would give anyone the opportunity not to participate in this international effort to rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe.

What countries will be represented at the regional conference and what issues will actually be discussed? It has been a long time since we first started thinking about tightening up the sanctions. Why has it taken so long to do that?

The European Union sanctions are a matter for the EU as a whole. We will have to wait to find out what comes out of the debates in the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. However, my hon. Friend can rest assured that from our perspective, as I said in my statement and in reply to the hon. Member for Cotswold, we want to maximise our ability to extend the bans and to examine other measures. We want to take colleagues with us. It is important that the action is multilateral and that it is seen that that action is being taken by the international community, not just by ourselves.

I served in 1979 to try to bring Zimbabwe back to democracy and I am horrified by the state that we are in now. I must say to the Government that I think that we have dragged our heels unnecessarily over the years. Does the Minister agree that surely the time has come to deal directly with South Africa and the other neighbours and to say to them very simply, as a process of limit diplomacy, that it is time for them to put real pressure on Zimbabwe? If they do not do so, perhaps we should examine again the programmes, such as aid programmes, that are going in their direction and say, “It’s a two-way street. Either you act, or we act.”

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution in his previous roles, but I disagree entirely with his last remark. I am all for putting increased pressure on people in the region to take their responsibilities seriously, and that is why, as I said, the Prime Minister has already been in contact with President Mbeki and has already had discussions with the President of Tanzania, and there will be other such discussions to follow. However, what we cannot and will not do is withdraw our important international aid activity, whether it is dealing with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, or with pandemic AIDS and TB. We will not take action against the ordinary citizens of any country in Africa simply to get at Mugabe’s regime. That is playing entirely into his hands, and that is the kind of suggestion that I tried to allude to earlier. Such suggestions are not only unhelpful, but are nonsense, given what we are trying to do.

In view of reports that ZANU-PF might itself move to get rid of Mugabe, will my right hon. Friend set out the principles that the UK Government and others will expect from an incoming Government, particularly in respect of the move to full and free elections in Zimbabwe? Some of us are concerned that people in ZANU-PF who have benefited greatly from the regime might try to ensure regime change to protect their own position, whereas most people, obviously, want a move to a truly democratic Zimbabwe, with a return to peace and security for the millions of Zimbabweans.

I am absolutely certain that there are some people within the regime who would like regime change but who would like to simply carry on with the policies that have led Zimbabwe to a position of international isolation. That country, which was able to feed itself, and which used to be the bread basket of Africa, now cannot even feed its own nation, and has an AIDS pandemic and a life expectancy of 34 years for a woman, and 37 years for a man.

Let me be absolutely clear that any regime change, which has to come from inside and not outside the country, has to result in a Government who recognise the human rights of all their citizens, who recognise opposition and the freedom of the press, who have the capacity to work with the international community to rebuild their shattered economy, and who have the ability to treat with respect and dignity all the people in Zimbabwe who want to make a contribution to the rebuilding of their country. No individual or organisation can simply take over and carry on as before. That is why it is important, as I said to the hon. Member for Cotswold, that alongside that effort, a second effort is made—an effort on the part of the international community to provide contingency plans on what support we can give to ensure that changes in government, and any transition that takes place, are sustainable on the grounds that I have set out.

In associating the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru with the Minister’s description of the woeful circumstances in Zimbabwe, may I press him for details of the plan that he has mentioned a number of times? Surely it will take a plan of Marshall plan application to make a real difference to the country when regime change takes place. Does he not think that it is time to tell the people of Zimbabwe about the degree of commitment outside the country to helping them back to the circumstances in which they should live?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks of support from the nationalist parties, and I accept them in the spirit in which they were made. Contingency planning is at an early stage, and I do not want to give the impression that I have an all-singing, all-dancing plan. What I am trying to allude to is the fact that, as well as bearing in mind the diplomatic issues to do with the regime, it is important that we do not simply wait until there is potential regime change, or indeed until there is a collapse, with all its consequences. We can already see the stresses and pressures on the front-line states around Zimbabwe as a result of migration and issues related to it. It is important that the international community, including the European Union, the United States and other large donors to Zimbabwe, think through what our contribution will be to assisting the transition to a democratic society and, with that, to preventing full-scale humanitarian disaster from occurring. That will be a huge effort.

For example, there are large numbers of elderly people in Zimbabwe, and given the collapse of the care system in Zimbabwe, what do we do to prevent those elderly people from becoming victims of any collapse? What do we do with young children, and what do we do in terms of restructuring, and in terms of those millions of people who have already left the country, and who need to return to be effective there? If they are to do so, a stable, incoming Government are needed. All those issues to do with contingency planning must be considered, as well as the issue of how the international community can best provide support for any new regime that takes over.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary about the position of Zimbabwean citizens in this country? Last Friday at my surgery, three Zimbabwean citizens who had received letters from the Home Office asking that they be returned to Zimbabwe came to see me. They believe that they will be killed if they go back. Surely, now is the time, especially in view of my right hon. Friend’s statement, at which we should not return people to that dreadful country. Will he meet the Home Secretary to discuss that as a matter of urgency?

There are no forced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe currently. Returns are suspended until the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Tribunal has made its judgment on a Court of Appeal case. We will continue to defer returns to Zimbabwe until that case is concluded, but we also continue to expect Zimbabweans who have no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and we encourage them to take advantage of the generous return and reintegration package. I do not have any details of my right hon. Friend’s case, but if he sends them to me, I will deal with it personally in the way in which he has asked me to do.

There are some 5,000 pensioners living in Zimbabwe who are world war two veterans and veterans of service with the Crown. Many of them are well over the age of 85, and they are being kept alive by charity. If there is a collapse of government and energy supplies, they will be at risk not within days or weeks but almost within hours. In addition to the measures that the Minister discussed a moment ago about longer-term contingency plans, can he assure the House something will be put in place almost immediately, because a collapse could take place tomorrow or the next day, and people will be vulnerable immediately? Are there plans for immediate support for people who look to Britain for support now, as they gave service to Britain so long ago?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, again, both for his question and for the tenor of it. I alluded in a previous answer to the fact that a key area for us is the elderly, and some of them are exactly the type of individual citizen to whom he referred. Given that assurance, the question of how best we can deal not just with the situation now but one that deteriorates even further is under active consideration. We are providing assistance at this moment in time, particularly in private care homes, where there are extreme difficulties, as the continuation of funding is a problem. The matter is a priority for our high commissioner, who is looking both at what we can do in contingency terms inside the borders of Zimbabwe and at what other actions need to be taken in those situations where people are extremely vulnerable.

When Chile suffered under the similarly brutal Pinochet dictatorship, we discovered that many British companies had been involved in providing the paraphernalia of repression to that Government—things such as riot police training, tear gas and so on. Is the Minister absolutely certain that no British company or British-domiciled person is in any way providing the paraphernalia of repression to Mugabe’s regime, and will he make sure that no other European country takes part in that repression, either?

There is an EU arms embargo, and it is critical both here and throughout the EU that companies respect it. It would be a breach of the embargo not to do so, but if my hon. Friend has any evidence of such action, I will investigate it. However, as far as we are concerned, there is a strong embargo that will remain in place and we may consider extending it.

The right hon. Gentleman has made the most outspoken criticism of the Mugabe regime that I have ever heard from a Minister in the House, and I congratulate him on it. Does he not agree that Mr. Mugabe has lost the support of the civilised world? He has lost the support of the overwhelming majority of African countries and of the majority of his own people—and even the majority in his own party—and is merely supported by a minority in his party. Can we not take a genuine initiative in dealing with African countries to indicate that we will do our best to help, if requested, in the supervision of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, to help with food aid and all the other necessary things to help to remove the suffering of the people?

For the second time in a week, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. There is nothing in his remarks that I disagree with. That is precisely what we are trying to do, in a multilateral way, where we play a very effective part, in order, first, to achieve democracy, secondly, to rebuild the country, and thirdly, to sustain the aid and support that we are giving and to extend that internationally. Fourthly, I cannot overemphasise the desire from the Prime Minister downwards in this regime to encourage South Africa and other front-line states to come up to the plate now. I am certain that that is happening. The important thing for us is to support it and take it forward, as I suggested in my opening statement and in my remarks since.

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), may I bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that I have a constituent who is still threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe? He is a man who is suffering from serious mental illness. As far as we can tell, there are no mental health facilities at all in Zimbabwe at present. Home Office Ministers have refused even to meet me about the case. If there is such a suspension as the Minister referred to, will he make sure that Home Office Ministers know about it?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I do not know the circumstances of the case. Irrespective of my ministerial responsibilities, I will raise the specific case with my Home Office counterparts. Hon. Members are entitled to see Ministers, whatever their responsibilities. There is an open-door policy in that respect. I will take back the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and ensure that he receives an appropriate response from the Minister concerned.

Can the Minister confirm that Robert Mugabe’s daughter, Bona Mugabe, is currently studying at the London School of Economics, and if so, can he say who is paying?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I understand that that is the case. On the second part, I am not certain so I cannot answer. I will write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy in the Library of the House. In response to the hon. Member for Cotswold I said, without prompting, that we should seriously consider extending the travel ban to children and other members of the family.

The Minister should be warmly commended for his robust criticism of the Mugabe regime and for pointing out that all the failings of Zimbabwe, which are causing such harm to its people, rest entirely with Mugabe and not with us or previous colonial rule. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it significant that the Archbishop of York, who has huge regional experience, has said that South Africa is in denial on these matters?

What the archbishop has done has been very helpful. Over the past few days and weeks—I do not mean just the past 10 days or the past fortnight—he and others have increasingly been speaking up and speaking out, demanding of South Africa and cajoling South Africa to take a more proactive role. That is exactly what has been happening in the past few days. That is why we must maintain and develop a relationship. That is why the Prime Minister has written to President Mbeki and why we have had discussions with the President of Tanzania. Further discussions will take place. It is critical, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to move to a point where those in the region take responsibility to assist the process of Mugabe leaving and getting a democratic, accountable Government in place.

If the Mugabe regime comes to an end or if for any other reason there is free access to deliver humanitarian aid on the scale that it is required in Zimbabwe, what plans are being put in place now to make sure that there can be a rapid increase in the level of that aid?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. On 23 March, we hosted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a meeting of 10 countries to discuss contingency planning—the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and the European Commission. Those are the key donors in the region and also those which have representation in Harare. So we are already thinking about the twin-track approach that I spoke about in my statement.

Will the Minister consider talking to the Foreign Secretary, because one of them should go to South Africa during the forthcoming recess with the Archbishop of York to talk to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other prominent South Africans who have spoken out to try to put some pressure on the South African Government, who have the key?

To stop the hon. Gentleman fretting, I should say that I speak to the Foreign Secretary every day on a range of matters. [Hon. Members: “Commiserations!”] Hon. Gentlemen should not be so churlish. There will be a range of diplomatic activity, as there is now, and it will include ministerial involvement. As part of what I have promised the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers, I will keep them abreast of continuing events, including ministerial engagement.

May I ask the Minister whether officials have consulted the International Criminal Court on whether charges can be formulated against Mugabe and his chief lieutenants? Although that might not lead to an actual prosecution, it would be a deterrent. On any view, Mugabe’s activities, while not as grave as those of Milosevic, are similar in kind.

That is a similar question to the one asked by the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), although perhaps it is more direct. The ICC is the next stage; the first stage, which we must concentrate on, is the process of engaging with front-line states and people internally in Zimbabwe to get a new regime and a new Government following agreed democratic principles. Any issue that arises after that will be for discussion. This Government are the biggest supporter of the ICC. We have already resisted efforts not to have it operate in Darfur—where there has been clear potential for its activities—and in northern Uganda and other areas. We are big supporters of the ICC, but I would rather not speculate at this stage, when the priority is clearly the international effort working with South Africa, Tanzania and others to ensure a transition from Mugabe to democratic government in Zimbabwe.

Although I commend the Minister for his robust condemnation of the Mugabe regime, I am not alone in the House in thinking that the statement was one of the most empty that I have heard. I ask for specific action. I have a report that a Chinese-registered ship docked last week in Mozambique at Beira and off-loaded small arms destined for Harare. I have another report that a team of Israelis are going to Harare to advise on demonstration control and that, furthermore, they are sending tear gas from Israel to Harare to support the Government there. Will this Government investigate whether those reports are true, and if so raise the matter at the highest level with the Governments of Mozambique, Israel and—[Hon. Members: “China”]—China? Will they also ensure that such matters are raised at the United Nations and by the European Union, too?

The hon. Gentleman was rather churlish in saying that the statement was empty: helping to keep millions alive with £120 million-worth of aid is not empty rhetoric; helping to fight Zimbabwe’s AIDS pandemic is not empty rhetoric; supporting all those working for democratic change is not empty rhetoric; helping to isolate Mugabe on an international basis is not empty rhetoric; pressing the African Union to support efforts to allow the people of Zimbabwe to remove Mugabe is not empty rhetoric; and pursuing the United Nations to increase pressure through the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is not empty rhetoric. The hon. Gentleman can by all means criticise, but he should do so on the basis of logic and not make partisan political points.

The Minister will be aware, as is everyone, that Zimbabwe is on the brink of both economic and institutional collapse. Is he aware that this could bring the country to collapse much more quickly and that, given what he said, we are apparently unprepared for what might happen? If at its meeting this week ZANU-PF’s central committee refuses to have Mugabe as the sole candidate in the forthcoming elections, and if at its own meeting in Tanzania the Southern African Development Community then votes for change, collapse would come even more quickly. What is the free western world going to do to help the people of Zimbabwe in these circumstances?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; her points are well made. Such points are why I set out in my statement what we are doing and will continue to do, and the contingency planning that I set out in the meeting that was held in my Department on 23 March. We are well aware of the movement in the situation. Hon. Members may rest assured that all that we can do, ourselves and by working with the international community, will be done.

The infrastructure in Zimbabwe is now significant, and we are putting in significant resources. I do not in any way underestimate the difficulties that would be caused, not just in Zimbabwe but across the region, if the country were to go into free fall. That is why it is critical that we work in unison with the region to get a transition from Mugabe to a new Government in a way that does not cause total disruption or a complete implosion of society in Zimbabwe, difficult though that is. I assure the hon. Lady that all our efforts and aims are to that effect.

When visiting Zimbabwe in February 2004 I was privileged and inspired to meet the distinguished human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. Given that on only Tuesday of last week Beatrice was again brutally assaulted by police officers when seeking to serve court papers on them, is it not now time that South Africa led a united international community in issuing to Robert Mugabe a very simple message: “Quit now and count your lucky stars if members of the MDC are willing to be bigger in dealing with you than you have ever been in dealing with them”?

The hon. Gentleman takes a great deal of interest in these issues. The lady concerned is an extraordinary person; every day could be her last. Such is the regime’s disregard for human rights that it is not just those who want to campaign for rights; the attack is on the defenders of human rights too. That is why we have put substantial financial resources into supporting those human rights defenders—in addition to the other resources. I do not say that in a partisan way; I just want to make it clear that we are helping to resource their activities as well.

In the past few days, South African Minister Pahad made a substantial move forward, saying:

“South Africa urges the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the rule of law including the respect for rights of all Zimbabweans and leaders of various political parties is respected”.

They seem few words, but in terms of what has gone on in the past they represent a significant step forward. We hope to build on that, particularly in view of what the Prime Minister has set out in his letter to President Mbeki, and the discussion and debate that we are having with the South African Government at various levels and with the President of Tanzania.

Further to the question raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the arrest and arraignment before a UN international court of Charles Taylor of Liberia creates the clear precedent that no Head of Government or Head of State is immune to trial by the international community for crimes against humanity.

The Minister may reflect that he might send out the wrong signal. It needs to be made very clear that Mugabe could be arraigned before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. That is not a matter for us; it is a matter for the ICC. The fact that he is a Head of State or a Head of Government no longer gives him immunity, and we must make it clear that where Heads of State or of Government trespass beyond what is acceptable in the 21st century, they will be brought to justice, as, hopefully, will Charles Taylor of Liberia.

I do not think that I could be any clearer about the Government’s support for the ICC. Its creation means that for the first time the world community is saying, in international terms, that there is no impunity for some of the activities of the most despotic leaderships of the world. That is why we took action in accepting international responsibility for Taylor when his trial comes and for the end of the trial; why we have been so firm with the Justice Minister and others in Darfur about their responsibility to work with the ICC; and why we have been so firm as regards the situation in northern Uganda. This Government are at the forefront of supporting the ICC. As for sending the wrong signal, the first signal that we need to send concerns the need to get a transition from Mugabe’s regime to a democratic regime and to do so not in a way that undermines its people’s capacity to have a country that does not implode but that, with international support, goes from strength to strength in very difficult circumstances.

There are 4 million Zimbabweans in political exile abroad, 295,000 Zimbabweans were displaced during the farm seizures, and a staggering 700,000 were internally displaced during Operation Murambatsvina. Surely one of the key issues is that of protecting the votes of those Zimbabweans in future elections.

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is critically important that, working with the international community, any change in regime is to a Government whom we recognise as democratic and accountable to the citizens of Zimbabwe, and where there is a fully fledged Opposition working in the context of free, transparent elections. That is all part of the process. In the coming weeks and months, the first priority must be to ensure that we are able to take forward the momentum of South Africa’s and Tanzania’s engagement to secure a future for the Zimbabwean people that excludes Robert Mugabe.

If there is a total collapse in Zimbabwe, what specific plans does the Minister have for the 12,000 British citizens who live in that country? When will his Government finally take way Mugabe’s honorary knighthood?

The honorary knighthood was given in 1994 by then Prime Minister Major. It is a source of angst and something that we may want to consider at some point. However, it is a third order issue in relation to the issues that we need to resolve. It sounds good, but it is a bolthole, and we must try not to provide Mugabe, or any of his supporters inside or outside the country, with any bolthole, but concentrate our efforts on having a regime that will take on responsibility for the citizens of Zimbabwe in a democratic way.

I cannot make any plainer the contingency planning that we need to do as an international community. This is an evolving situation. However, I gave the House a commitment, and I give it again: I will come back to the House as the situation evolves. In the meantime, I will keep Opposition Front Benchers in constant touch with what I and other Ministers are doing.