Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]
I welcome this debate. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his opposite number fully intended to participate in the debate, until it was clear that it was going to be significantly delayed as a result of ministerial statements and, as of Tuesday, possible Lords amendments. That is when the decision was taken for me to open the debate. We are, of course, seeking a further debate in the autumn, subject to the agreement of the business managers. We will then be able to debate the matter even more fully.
I would like the Minister to clarify exactly what the Foreign Secretary is doing. I know that he has a meeting at 4 o’clock, as the invitations went out last week. However, why is it not possible for him at least to open the debate today? All hon. Members accept how busy he is and would understand if he had to leave, but why has he decided not to open today’s debate?
I do not know exactly what my right hon. Friend is doing at this precise moment, though I know that a number of concerns led him to take the decision, in which he liaised with the Opposition. My hon. Friend will be aware of the issue of Russia, which has demanded my right hon. Friend’s attention. She knows, as I do, that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is genuinely honourable and genuinely concerned about issues in Zimbabwe, which are a matter of priority within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign Secretary sincerely regrets not being able to open today’s debate. If it were possible for him to be here, he would indeed have been here.
I share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). Does not the Minister agree that the message going out from this House to all those people worldwide who are concerned about Zimbabwe is important? This is the first debate on the subject for three years. I understand that the Foreign Secretary merely has a meeting at Chatham House; and I acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is not in his place either. Is it not a very sad indictment when they do not see their first priority as this House rather than elsewhere?
That is not the message that should go out. The issue is a matter of great concern. The former Leader of the House gave the hon. Gentleman a commitment to have a debate on Zimbabwe, which is being fulfilled. I have now made a further commitment—precisely because it is a matter of such concern and because we want to see it debated even more fully—to have another debate, subject to the agreement of the business managers, in the autumn. There are expectations of further decisions over the next few months, which I will outline in greater detail later, which provide a good reason for having a further debate at that time. We wish to arrange that as soon as possible.
I shall now move on to the substance of my speech. As the Prime Minister recently said in Berlin of President Mugabe:
“We call upon him to respect the civil liberties of the people of Zimbabwe, and we call upon him to end what has been a disastrous period of poverty and, in many cases famine, and also the damage to human rights that has been done in that country.”
In my own speech, I will deal with the following issues: the current situation, including the human cost and economic decline; the appalling human rights abuses that have occurred and still are occurring; the response of the region and the Southern African Development Community or SADC initiative; our approach to supporting the people of Zimbabwe and all those now working for democratic change; and the EU-Africa summit.
I hope that all hon. Members can agree on two points: first, that the situation in Zimbabwe today is appalling; and secondly, that the cause of it is the actions of Robert Mugabe’s regime. The bare statistics are shocking enough: an economy halved in just seven years; unimaginable levels of inflation well in excess of 15,000 per cent.; an unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent.; a currency that has lost 99.9 per cent of its value in the last four years; and one in every five adults infected with AIDS.
The human misery that lies beneath those statistics is starker still. On average, a Zimbabwean boy born today will be dead before he reaches 37, and a Zimbabwean girl will die even earlier—she will not reach 35. One consequence is that today one in four Zimbabwean children has lost a parent. People are fleeing their homes and their country in the hundreds of thousands. The latest estimate is that more than 2,000 cross the Limpopo every night. Around a quarter of the population has already left. Of those who remain, almost half—more than 4 million people—will need food aid by 2008. Let us not forget where this is all happening. It is happening in a country that was one of the richest in Africa—a country that enjoyed comparatively high standards of living, a booming economy, and some of the best health, education and legal systems in the region.
There can be no doubt where the responsibility for the terrible tragedy in Zimbabwe lies—with President Mugabe and his regime. In the first 10 years after independence, significant gains were made in access to basic services. After 27 years of rule, however, Mugabe’s enduring legacy to the people of Zimbabwe is misery, poverty and oppression. Owing to Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is in the grip of a corrupt culture that has destroyed what was once the bread basket of southern Africa. Since 1998, agricultural productivity has fallen by a staggering 80 per cent. and more than a million people, many of them black commercial farm workers and their families, have lost their livelihoods.
I do not wish to be discourteous to the Minister, but those of us who regularly attend debates on Africa and Zimbabwe have all those facts burned into our souls. We do not want to hear a recital of Mugabe’s crimes and offences; we know about that. We want to hear what Her Majesty’s Government and the Foreign Office intend to do.
I understand entirely that many Members know a great deal about the situation and have spent a lot of time raising such issues. Let us remember, however, that we are having this debate on the Floor of the House, it will be read widely, and it is right that the Government put the issues on the record. I do so not to avoid answering the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, but to make absolutely clear how poor the situation is, and what the implications are.
Robert Mugabe’s regime has compounded the catastrophic failure of policy at every turn. The mining sector is crippled—gold production is at its lowest ebb since 1917—which has put another 40,000 out of work in the past decade. Today there are reports that Zimbabwe, despite its huge reserves of coal, is having to import from Botswana. Even so, electricity supplies have now become so irregular that those few companies struggling to survive are having to import their own fuel from outside the country.
The new legislation being rushed through the Zimbabwean Parliament tells the same story. If approved, the legislation will make all foreign investors offer up a 51 per cent. shareholding to local investors. No doubt Robert Mugabe will ensure that his supporters receive the benefit while ordinary people suffer. Meanwhile, in 2005, Robert Mugabe added to the misery of the 1 million people displaced from the countryside by destroying the homes or livelihoods of 700,000 people living in the cities. He has refused to appeal to the UN for food aid, and has persistently ignored the advice of the International Monetary Fund on how to rescue his nose-diving economy.
I am sorry to report to the House that the latest news coming out of Zimbabwe shows that Robert Mugabe is set on pursuing yet more disastrous policies. The ill-thought-out and economically illiterate Operation Reduce Prices is resulting in panic-buying, empty shelves and looting. The few remaining businesses and manufacturers are closing. As might have been expected, such a clumsy attempt to manipulate market forces is simply driving consumers elsewhere—to the black market. As is always the case, those in the best position to take advantage of such an underground economy are the political elite.
Zimbabwe is grinding to a halt, while Robert Mugabe and his regime continue to close their eyes to the suffering.
I set up an organisation, in which the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is also involved, which provides ongoing support for HIV/AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the people in Zimbabwe place enormous value on the support and solidarity that comes from the UK? That is why the seniority of the ministerial presence in the House, and the level at which the Government engage and seek to put pressure on Zimbabwe, is so important, both in trying to stop Robert Mugabe and in giving some hope and heart to the people who are suffering most under that regime.
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, and accept the reasons behind it. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary completely supports the actions being taken, and takes the matter very seriously. The issue is being given priority. I hope that that will reassure the people of Zimbabwe to whom my hon. Friend has referred.
There is only one way in which a regime that is so incompetent and venal can survive—by denying the people the freedom to change it. Robert Mugabe and his regime depend on brutality and oppression for their survival. Since 11 March, when a young Zimbabwean was shot dead and opposition and civil society leaders bludgeoned, the number of opposition activists arrested and beaten throughout Zimbabwe has continued to grow.
Given that the president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Beatrice Mtetwa, an extremely distinguished human rights lawyer, and Lovemore Madhuku, the chair of the National Constitutional Assembly, both of whom I had the privilege of meeting as long ago as February 2004, are just two of the people who, on more than one occasion, have been arrested and savagely beaten by the fascistic forces of Mugabe’s regime, does the Minister agree that President Mugabe should under no circumstances be allowed to attend the EU-African Union summit, and if he does, that our Prime Minister will boycott that pointless and thoroughly insensitive charade?
I understand entirely the hon. Gentleman’s point. If he will bear with me, I said at the outset that I would refer to the issue, and I will do so.
In early June, lawyers peacefully protesting outside the high court were attacked and a leading female human rights lawyer was badly beaten in public. In the same month, police used batons against some 200 members of the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise who were protesting peacefully in Bulawayo. Seven of their members were detained and denied access to lawyers. They were held for several nights in degrading conditions before being released without charge. In the past, some of their members have been arrested and detained with their babies.
Just last week, it was the turn of Zimbabwe's students: when they protested against the forced eviction of 5,000 students from their halls of residence, hundreds were beaten and injured by riot police. All that, of course, is set against the backdrop of the continued persecution of opposition politicians, including Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the rigging of elections, the systematic crushing of Zimbabwe’s free media and the use of food, fuel and land as tools of political repression.
The meltdown in Zimbabwe is a tragedy for the people of that country, but it is also a problem for the entire region. The repeated lesson of history is that the impacts of state failure will always migrate across borders. It is therefore undoubtedly in the interests of African nations to find and lead the solution to the problems in the country. We will support them in that effort.
What representations has the Minister received in relation to the Southern African Development Community supporting Zimbabwe, and specifically South Africa, in relation to expanding the rand’s monetary area and the customs union to include Zimbabwe at some point?
I shall refer shortly to the role of SADC.
Zimbabwe’s neighbours are already feeling the negative economic and social consequences of the exodus of Zimbabweans. It is putting added strain on their social and welfare structures. Zimbabwe’s neighbours are having to deal with HIV/AIDS patients, malnutrition, safety and security problems. In turn, that is causing tension within their own populations. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to his South African counterpart last week. They discussed the more than 2 million refugees already in South Africa—the last thing that South Africa needs—and the damage that Zimbabwe’s failure is doing to its neighbours’ economies. There are clear signs that the capacity of Zimbabwe’s neighbours to absorb those fleeing the country is approaching its limit. South Africa has returned more than 100,000 irregular migrants in the first six months of this year, which is twice the rate of the previous year.
The regional consequences of Robert Mugabe’s destructive approach are one compelling reason for the need for African leadership. The other, equally compelling, is that it is African countries and African leaders who have the greatest influence on the government of Zimbabwe. That is why we support a more active stance by the Southern African Development Community. We have been encouraging progress under President Mbeki’s leadership to promote dialogue between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. President Mbeki updated the Prime Minister earlier this month, and there have been numerous ministerial level contacts with other SADC leaders as the situation in Zimbabwe has worsened.
We are expecting President Mbeki to report on progress to fellow SADC leaders at the summit in Lusaka set for mid-August. This is the opportunity for them to make a difference. However, I would not be being frank with this House if I did not say that ZANU-PF representatives have repeatedly failed to turn up for talks, and this is not encouraging. Robert Mugabe must not think that the SADC initiative can be used as a smokescreen to distract the opposition and his neighbours while he prepares the ground in Zimbabwe for another set of crooked elections. It would be a catastrophe, not just for Zimbabwe but for the region, if Zimbabwe suffered its fourth manipulated elections in a row next year. SADC has itself agreed high-quality standards for its elections. So we will support its efforts to put its stated commitment to promoting good governance and to respecting human rights and the rule of law into effect. It is only through such regional engagement that the situation can be prevented from deteriorating further.
African leadership is key. It helps to undercut one of the great sustaining myths of the regime’s propaganda effort—that international concern is colonialism by another name. We in this country must be particularly adroit in how we approach this problem. As the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, made clear on British television just a few months ago:
“The British government cannot be seen to be at the forefront of confronting Mugabe, alone … that will be misconstrued as a colonial resuscitation of the same situation again. So Britain has to act together with the rest of the international community and the AU”.
However, none of that is to deny the very specific historic connection that we have with the people of Zimbabwe; and it is concern for them which drives our policy. Our approach is twofold. We want to see Zimbabwe back on the road to recovery. We want a reforming Government who pursue sensible and just policies. We want the people to have a chance to choose their Government freely. But until that time, we will do all that we can to relieve the suffering of the people of that country through a significant humanitarian aid programme.
Let me inform the House of the specific measures that we are taking to keep up the pressure and maintain the international spotlight on Robert Mugabe’s regime.
The Minister mentioned the Government’s aid programme. May I declare an interest? I am the unremunerated adviser to the Overseas Service Pensioners Association. At the time of Zimbabwe’s independence, a group of men and women were assured by the British Government that if they remained in post as civil servants in Zimbabwe their pension entitlements would be honoured. They are people in the most abject poverty. They are our kith and kin. It is shocking that we are not diverting some of the aid to those people. For the reasons that I have stated, they are our kith and kin, and they are some of the poorest. Does the Minister have any plans to review the situation? It is a crime on all of us to have let those people, who were so instrumental in helping the transition from white minority rule to the independent Zimbabwe, fall into this abject poverty.
We take our duty of care and responsibility for British nationals in Zimbabwe very seriously. We provide a full consular service in Harare. We are making efforts to ensure that all British nationals, including those who are vulnerable and elderly, are aware of the assistance that we and other organisations can offer them. The embassy is making particular efforts to identify and support those who are infirm or elderly and who may find it harder to access consular assistance.
The hon. Gentleman has raised very specific questions about a particular group of people. I hope that we may be able to provide information to him a little later in the debate.
The Minister has referred to ex-pat United Kingdom citizens. There is a significant white population who regard themselves fundamentally as British, but hold Zimbabwean passports. I have a constituent who was brought up in the United Kingdom by foster parents, but still holds a Zimbabwean passport. There is no exit route for her. Our own Government deny her access to what she regards as her own country. Is it not time that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office got together and made sure that there was a plan for these people?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about plans to support people from Zimbabwe; there are extensive plans.
The measures that we are taking have the support of Zimbabwean civil society organisations because they are, rightly, focused on Mugabe and his elite, not the people of Zimbabwe. As a direct response to the Government-orchestrated violence in March, we added further names to the EU's travel ban and assets-freeze list. The EU ban on arms sales and the EU travel ban and assets freeze on 131 leading members of the regime remain in place. However, there are no economic sanctions, despite regime propaganda to the contrary, because of the damage they would do to ordinary Zimbabweans. The greatest sanction on the Zimbabwean economy is the policy of the Zimbabwean Government themselves.
I find it hard to understand why anyone would want to go and play cricket in Zimbabwe. There are currently no sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe, but international sport should never be a way for dictators to publicise their misrule. We would not want the England cricket team to tour there. It is a matter for the English cricketing authorities to decide ultimately whether England play Zimbabwe or not. Our views are clear.
Let me also say a few words about the EU-Africa summit. We have stated very clearly to all concerned that this Government is committed to Africa and the EU-Africa relationship. Indeed, we launched the EU-Africa partnership strategy in 2005 under the UK Presidency. Above all, we want a summit this year that delivers real results for Africa. We do not want anything to overshadow this work, including Robert Mugabe. We want a solution that is consistent with the EU's common position on Zimbabwe and with what the EU and Africa want to achieve together on governance. We believe that any conference that goes ahead should, in our view, include a specific discussion on the situation in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to shine the UN spotlight on Mugabe's human rights abuses. We pushed for fifty countries to condemn him at the Human Rights Council in March and we will push for Zimbabwe to be back on September's agenda. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the many other groups working in the region and in this country—NGOs, church groups, women’s groups and some trade unions in particular—to document and draw attention to the abuses of the regime.
There are always many rumours that China and other states are providing loans or support to Zimbabwe and we know that Robert Mugabe is always looking for lifelines to keep him afloat. We have discussed with China how it engages with Africa and Zimbabwe specifically. We want China to support the new African agenda led by Africans, and we will continue to consult at a bilateral and EU level.
I do not think that my hon. Friend responded to an earlier Opposition question that I would also like to ask. What is the position of the Government on any EU country—Portugal, which holds the presidency, in particular—asking Robert Mugabe to come to the EU-African Union conference?
The meeting is planned for later in the year and we have made our position clear on this. We are in discussions and there needs to be a solution to the matter. [Interruption.] Hon. Members want me to tell them what will happen in a few months’ time. I am not in a position to tell them, but we are clear that we do not want the summit to be overshadowed by Robert Mugabe.
The Minister is not being particularly helpful on this matter. On 15 July, The Sunday Times reported:
“Gordon Brown will refuse to attend a forthcoming summit of European Union and African leaders in Lisbon if Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is invited.”
The House is seeking confirmation from the Minister not only that the Prime Minister will refuse to attend the summit if Mugabe is invited, but that so will the Foreign Secretary and all other British Ministers.
I entirely understand why Members are asking such questions, but what I can say is that we are working with the EU and African partners on a solution that is consistent with the EU common position on Zimbabwe and with what the EU is seeking to achieve on governance. It is important that the conference go ahead, but we do not want it to be overshadowed by Robert Mugabe and we want any solution to be consistent with the EU common position.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I must tell her that she has not answered the question. As I said, The Sunday Times reported that the Prime Minister had already made it clear that he would not attend the summit under such circumstances. If the Minister refuses to repeat that assurance, that will imply that the Government are equivocal on the matter, which will send the wrong signal not only to Harare but, equally importantly, to Lisbon. It is important that the Minister today state clearly and unambiguously that the Prime Minister will not attend the EU summit if Mr. Mugabe is invited.
I had intended to give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), but the right hon. and learned Gentleman was quicker on his feet—that might teach the hon. Gentleman a lesson.
I am being as clear as I can be on this matter, and it is very clear where the Government stand in respect of Robert Mugabe. I have set out at length our views on this situation: we are working with EU and African partners on a solution that is consistent with the EU common position on Zimbabwe. I cannot answer any more questions on the matter, as I would merely be repeating myself.
While maintaining and tightening political pressure, we are providing targeted humanitarian assistance.
May I make a little more progress? I know that I told the hon. Gentleman to be quicker on his feet, but he might on this occasion have risen a little too quickly.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development would have expanded further on the issue of such assistance in closing the debate—which he wished to do—were he not currently in Sudan dealing with another pressing problem with which Members will be familiar. However, I can inform Members that we are one of the three largest donors to Zimbabwe, and that UK money is helping to keep hundreds of thousands of people alive. Last year, we committed more than £33 million to humanitarian programmes, including food aid. In the last five years we have given £35 million to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and we have committed a further £47 million for the next three years.
I thank the Minister for giving way. All she needed to say on the summit was that if Mugabe does attend, our Prime Minister will not.
On the travel ban issue, I simply ask that given that the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono, is responsible for the 10,000 per cent. inflation that is wrecking the lives of millions of Zimbabweans, why on earth is he not banned from entering our country? He is thoroughly unwelcome.
I understand that we are seeking to do something about that. If the hon. Gentleman will give me a few moments, I shall flick through my brief and try to find some information that might allow me to respond more precisely to his question, but first let me finish what I have to say about aid.
Baroness Vadera announced yesterday in another place that we will commit a further £50 million over the next five years to continue the protracted relief programme in Zimbabwe. That will enable continuing provision of social protection in the form of agricultural inputs, water and sanitation, training and home-based care for some 2 million of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe. Our aid is channelled through United Nations and NGO agencies, not via the Government. 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. We are also spending another £3.3 million this year supporting civil society and organisations working to promote good governance and open democratic space.
I can now respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham. On the Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono, we have argued for what the hon. Gentleman asks, but other EU partners have not supported us on it. We are clear that he is not welcome in the UK.
Of course, we have a particular responsibility for those British nationals still residing in or visiting Zimbabwe. Their welfare is a prime concern. We provide a full consular service in Harare and we maintain a network of consular correspondents to ensure that we keep in close touch with our nationals in other urban and rural areas. We have a comprehensive and regularly updated contingency plan that covers the 12,000 nationals registered with the British embassy, including the elderly and vulnerable.
The country and people of Zimbabwe are being driven into the ground by the policies of a corrupt and brutal regime. Zimbabwe can recover, but only if the policies are in place to permit it. The UK stands ready to help substantially with Zimbabwe’s recovery. I know that many of the Zimbabwean diaspora are anxious to return to Zimbabwe and play their part.
I hope to clarify that point later for the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is that other EU member states did not support our view on that, so the governor is not on the EU visa ban list. We are working, through the EU, on a common position and making our views clear.
The whole House is grateful to the Minister for being so generous in giving way, and we recognise the great difficulties with which she is trying to wrestle. I wish to return to the point that I made earlier about the overseas pensioners. The note that the Minister was sent did not address the point at issue. I am specifically asking for an undertaking today that some part of the £33 million of aid will be specifically earmarked for those whose continued service through independence was responsible for reassuring the white community that there would be some stability after independence. The fact that they honoured their commitment to stay on led to the successful transition. Lord Trefgarne wrote that the independence constitution provides
“full safeguards for public service pensions and their remittability”.
That has not happened, and I ask the Minister for an undertaking today that those people will be looked after through the British taxpayers’ money that is going to Zimbabwe. Let us earmark some of it for those people.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned £33 million, but I think that I said £3.3 million. I will clarify that point, but I do not want to commit more money than we have in our coffers on my first outing at the Dispatch Box on this subject.
On independence, state pensions for civil servants in Zimbabwe became the responsibility of the Zimbabwe Government, and there has been no change in that position. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making every effort to support those British nationals who are vulnerable and whose pensions have become worthless as a consequence of Robert Mugabe’s economic policy. Those people are being treated in the same way as other British nationals in Zimbabwe.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) in a moment, but the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) asked about the money situation. As yet, there are no formal proposals for Zimbabwe to join the rand zone. At this stage, little apart from a complete reversal of Robert Mugabe’s economic policies would slow down the country’s economic decline.
I appreciate that the Minister has faced huge difficulties in coming to the Dispatch Box to debate a subject of which she has little knowledge, and I think that the whole House sympathises and understands. However, is she not aware that it was the UK and not Europe that brought Mr. Mugabe to power? That means that we should take more responsibility, so why do we not impose a ban on the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, irrespective of the views of other European countries? That would set an example to others, and make it clear that the man cannot come to the UK because he is unwelcome and undesirable.
I am not sure how to respond, as I think that I was being damned with faint praise by the hon. Gentleman. Although I certainly bow to the extensive knowledge of Zimbabwe displayed by other hon. Members, I would not describe my situation quite as he did.
For the first 10 or so years of his regime, Robert Mugabe pursued progressive policies—
I hesitate to say that problems did not arise, but the situation in Zimbabwe at the outset of Mr. Mugabe’s regime was very different from what it is today. However, I think that I have made clear the Government’s position in respect of the governor of the Reserve Bank.
I hope that it will assist my hon. Friend the Minister if I suggest that she need not bow too deeply to the extensive knowledge of these matters displayed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), as the UK did not bring Mr. Mugabe to power. He came to power as the result of a free election in Zimbabwe. In so far as we had any influence, we backed Bishop Muzorewa, who got 3 per cent. of the vote.
I am very happy to bow to my hon. Friend’s greater knowledge, although I was referring to the collective expertise displayed by the House. However, this debate is not about who knows most. We should be considering what it is right for us to do, what we are doing, and how we can continue to press the matter. As I said at the outset, our policies do not end here, by any means. Further aid to Zimbabwe was announced only yesterday, and there is a SADC meeting in August. It will be appropriate for the House to discuss this matter again when we return from the summer recess.
I am extremely grateful, and I am sorry to press this point but it is important. Gideon Gono is both a craven lickspittle of Mugabe and the architect of the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of Zimbabweans. Why on earth can we not unilaterally impose a ban on his coming to this country? Which EU member states stand in the way of more robust and concerted action? I think we should be told.
I will try to be robust in response. Gideon Gono is not welcome in the UK. He does not intend to travel here, and we do not intend to let him come.
I end by saying that a major change of direction is needed, and a major change of policy. Only then can the situation in Zimbabwe be reversed. We do not believe that Robert Mugabe is willing or able to change and, more importantly, nor do the people of Zimbabwe. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that their voice is heard, so that Zimbabwe can enjoy new leadership and a new start.
May I begin by welcoming the Minister to her first debate at the Dispatch Box? She was generous in giving way to hon. Members. She managed to stick to a pretty feeble script provided by the Foreign Office. Those of us who have served in Departments know only too well the kind of script that will often have in brackets: “If pressed”, “If really pressed”, “Under no circumstances admit this” and—the biggest joke of all—when one turns the page, “You’re on your own now.”
Can my hon. Friend tell me one thing that the Minister said that we should welcome? Has not the House today witnessed a rather terrifying sight? It sounded like we had a Foreign Office Minister who felt unable to say anything on a line to take, because the Foreign Office seems to be groping desperately for an EU common position. Until they have found their EU common position, Ministers at the Foreign Office do not seem able to tell us what Her Majesty’s Government actually think. It was a pathetic performance.
As usual, my hon. Friend states delicately what a number of colleagues have felt and expressed. Although I may have begun my reply with a lightness of touch, what he and other hon. Members have touched on is a very serious situation. I have no intention of reading out the long litany of things that President Mugabe has done or of setting out the appalling circumstances in Zimbabwe. I wish to concentrate on the fact that Zimbabwean society is close to breaking, that the situation there is likely to explode among the neighbouring countries, and that—to pick up the point that my hon. Friend mentioned—it is difficult to establish from the Minister’s comments what the policy of Her Majesty’s Government actually is and what they intend to do about the crisis.
The international community must accept that the stand that it has taken against Mugabe has proved almost totally ineffective. The build-up of pressure has been weakened by a lack of cohesion between states which firmly oppose the Mugabe regime and states which are unprepared to stand directly against it. President Mugabe has been able to circumvent attempts to isolate both his Government and him personally by exploiting those divisions. At every opportunity, he has attempted to use a distorted view of Zimbabwe’s historical relationship with Britain to peddle the fable that it is only he who bravely stands against the interference of a former colonial power.
I recognise that, amazingly, Mugabe is still regarded as a hero of the anti-colonial struggle by many Zimbabweans and by those living in neighbouring countries, but recognising that does not mean that we have feebly to accept the fact that we in Britain cannot argue the case forcefully, recognising our colonial heritage. We have a direct moral, economic and political interest in the peoples of Zimbabwe and, indeed, the future of south Africa. If we do not recognise that, we deserve to be a minor European power.
I would hope that any British Government would look with a great deal of favour on those people. If nothing else, we have a moral responsibility to them and a responsibility in relation to their potential fate in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has consistently managed to foil diplomatic attempts to bring political change in Zimbabwe while —unfortunately—profiting from the protective umbrella of African states which help to keep him at arm’s length from the demands of the international community. However, those very African states that will bear the brunt of the social and political fallout in the event of Zimbabwe’s collapse. As the Minister pointed out, large numbers of refugees are already moving into the neighbouring countries of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi, and the potential for regional destabilisation is growing.
What estimates have the Government made of the number of refugees who are pouring into each of those countries and what is the Government’s assessment of the countries’ capacity to cope with any surge in the numbers fleeing? The international community must be ready to assist the south African countries and plan a response to the possible humanitarian crisis that looms ever closer. What international assistance would be provided in the event of a desperate humanitarian situation? What discussions have the Government held at the UN and with our European partners about this subject?
One of our many concerns is the security and well-being of UK passport holders in Zimbabwe. Will the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), tell the House how many UK passport holders are residing in Zimbabwe? Furthermore, if the internal situation breaks down into wider disorder, what are the Government’s contingency plans to protect or evacuate those people? I am trying to keep to specific factual questions. I would have hoped that the Foreign Office might have thought that hon. Members would ask such questions. I look to the Minister to reply to some of them during his winding-up speech.
For such reasons, now, more than ever, the international community must ensure that concerted pressure is brought to bear on the regime to hasten the return of democracy. Mugabe’s position internally is increasingly precarious, and there are signs of factions developing in ZANU-PF, his party. In that context, the redoubling of efforts across a broad coalition of countries could undoubtedly help to strengthen the existing forces for change.
One of the most pertinent points that has been raised during the debate is whether President Mugabe will be invited to attend the EU-African Union summit later this year. I understand only too well that the British Government wish, as far as possible, to line up with their EU partners. Considerable strength will arise from that. However, given what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said about the Prime Minister’s alleged comments, many people will have found it incredible that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was unable to say that the British Government’s preferred option was for President Mugabe not to attend the conference. That should be the Government’s preferred option. It would find support across the House and send a powerful message to Mugabe and his henchmen.
Surely possible disadvantages would be outweighed by the implications of Mugabe’s attendance. Allowing him to attend would be wholly inconsistent with the EU common position that bans 140 of Mugabe’s henchmen and officials from travelling. We know that he will exploit the occasion for all it is worth to show Zimbabweans that he is still fêted and welcomed by the international community. We must send the signal that the destruction that he has wrought on his own people cannot be tolerated not only by Britain, a former colonial power, but the whole of the EU. Successive British Prime Ministers have talked about putting Britain at the centre of Europe. On this issue, let us at least put ourselves firmly at the centre of the EU, set an example and damn the others to follow us.
In May, in reply to the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Minister for the Middle East wrote:
“We will look to the Presidency for a solution on Zimbabwean attendance that is consistent with the EU Common Position on Zimbabwe.”—[Official Report, 14 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 504W.]
Will the Under-Secretary explain in more detail during his winding-up speech what outcome the Government would consider to be consistent with the EU common position? What steps will the Government take to ensure that Mugabe cannot attend? Will the Minister assure the House that none of the representatives of Mugabe’s Government who is on the EU travel ban list will be allowed to attend? Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister gave a commitment that he will not attend the conference if President Mugabe attends? Will he give us a clear yes or no?
International sanctions justifiably target the influential figures at the heart of the regime in Zimbabwe—those who continue to prosper at the direct expense of the general populace. We understand that whatever action Britain takes should be carried out through the mechanism of the European Union because that will refute Mugabe’s argument that Britain, the former colonial power, is the driving force. Unfortunately, sanctions have lacked a direct impact to affect the attitudes of those who could force Mugabe to change his course. As the Minister said, fewer than 130 individuals linked to the Mugabe regime are subject to a travel ban and asset freeze under EU sanctions. Will the Government clarify whether they believe that 130 individuals accurately reflects the number of people responsible for conducting Mugabe’s operations across the wide network of governmental departments and bodies, and police, youth-militia and intelligence services?
Following the violence that took place against opposition politicians in Zimbabwe four months ago, the UK Government said:
“We are pushing for, and expect there to be, progress on the addition of extra names to the EU visa ban list”.—[Official Report, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1164.]
However, since then, only a handful of names have been included, and that can hardly be described as a substantial advance. The one person whose name is continually mentioned in debates on the subject—Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who is responsible for the country’s treasury and who controls almost all the economic Ministries—does not appear on the EU list, although it appears on the lists drawn up by New Zealand and the United States. Why is it not on the EU list, and why have the British Government not told our European colleagues that that is totally and utterly unacceptable?
In a letter of 21 July to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor said that the UK would press the EU to add Mr. Gono’s name to the EU list. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs tell the House why those representations failed? Did the EU say, “Not now; we are not prepared to do that. Come back later”? Will those representations be revived, or does the EU lack the resolve to deal with the matter?
Surely the time has come for a wider asset freeze and travel ban, covering all family members and business associates of the people who are already on the list, and surely EU visas and residence permits should be cancelled. It is well known that many family members of Zimbabwean Government officials on the EU travel ban list reside in EU countries. It would significantly strengthen the EU common position if we revoked those rights of residence. Additionally, the institutions in Zimbabwe that are instruments of the Government and their members should be made subject to the EU assets freeze. It is crucial that the Mugabe regime and those closest to it start to feel the personal cost of the devastation that they are inflicting on their country.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the outgoing American ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, has made clear his Government’s commitment to introducing just such a ban? That gives a strong message to the coterie of thugs who run Zimbabwe, and my hon. Friend is right to press the Government on his very similar point.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I read the report to which he refers, which was robust. It is an example to the British Government and our EU neighbours. Given the hugely destabilising impact that Zimbabwe’s collapse would have on the region, its neighbours seem to be displaying a regrettable lack of foresight and urgency. The outcome of an extraordinary summit held by the Southern African Development Community in Tanzania this March was indeed extraordinary, if not rather unbelievable. The summit’s participants refused publicly to criticise Mugabe, and instead reaffirmed their ‘solidarity’, while appealing for the end of
“all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe”.
One result of the summit was that President Mbeki of South Africa was appointed to mediate a political settlement between the Government of Zimbabwe and their opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. His efforts are to be wholeheartedly supported, but it must be noted that it was the fifth time since 2000 that the SADC had asked President Mbeki to facilitate political dialogue in Zimbabwe, and it came long after his admission in 2004 that his quiet diplomacy had failed. As our former Prime Minister Tony Blair stated, the solution will ultimately have to come from Africa, but the international community must do whatever it can to encourage the process.
Political negotiation and collaboration between the main political parties will be vital to any transition towards democratic reform. Britain can assist in that effort, but fresh impetus desperately needs to be injected into the diplomatic attempts to nurture that political process. In the absence of stronger support from the wider southern Africa leaders, the task has proven too difficult for a succession of distinguished figures, including the previous President of Tanzania, the former Mozambican President, the Nigerian leader and the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. It seems to many of us that large numbers of members of the international community are wringing their hands and passing around messages of support, but not taking any action.
President Mbeki’s latest arbitration attempt has not had an auspicious start: ZANU-PF representatives have failed to turn up to talks in Pretoria on three separate occasions. Mugabe shows no serious sign of taking the initiative, and while he stalls, life for millions of Zimbabweans becomes ever more desperate.
Do not the Government share our concern that events are moving at such a fast pace that the country’s rapidly plummeting economy may render the talks irrelevant, and, indeed, may render the Government’s statement this afternoon irrelevant? What steps are the Government taking in conjunction with their European counterparts and the AU to support President Mbeki’s endeavours and persuade him to intensify them? What role is the UK High Commissioner in South Africa, a former Government Minister, taking in all this? He is a distinguished, diplomatic and feline politician who, I would imagine, could put his good offices at the disposal of the international community. Does the Minister have any confidence that the current set of talks will succeed, given the urgency of the situation?
Local pressure will be decisive in influencing events in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, experience has shown that the solidarity and mutual interests of states within the SADC continue to outweigh objections that they may have regarding Mugabe’s rule. Mugabe has not only consistently avoided any significant pressure from his neighbours and resisted the advances of quiet diplomacy, but he has used his African alliance to deter escalation through the UN Security Council.
By any estimate, there remain clear gaps as well as weaknesses in the international consensus. The UK Government’s aim to achieve international solidarity must be deemed to be failing until more progress can be made to bring the members of the SADC on board. Have the Government given any thought to how the Commonwealth might be engaged to play a constructive role in the crisis? Although Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 after suspension from the councils, its neighbouring countries are all members. Does the Minister therefore agree that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to take action and exert influence on the neighbours of Zimbabwe and make certain that Zimbabwe remains at the top of the Commonwealth agenda?
The detrimental long-term effects of tolerating the Mugabe regime need to be strongly and clearly laid out. The international community must succeed in convincing Zimbabwe’s neighbours that a failed state in their near proximity is a threat to their best interests. In the coming months, the burden of humanitarian and social collapse, as well as economic demise, will increasingly fall on Zimbabwe’s neighbours—South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and others. Britain must convince them that protecting a failing regime is short-sighted, in view of the awaiting economic and humanitarian cost, and will only hinder the future development of the whole region. The kind of statement that the Minister had to read out this afternoon is not exactly a trumpet call to taking action against Zimbabwe. It is a rather muted, strangled whine that will have no influence whatever on Zimbabwe or its neighbours.
Careful consideration must be given to initiating International Criminal Court investigations into the atrocities committed by Mugabe and members of his regime. Earlier this year, the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said:
“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.”——[Official Report, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1175.]
It goes without saying that everyone in the House would dearly love to witness the completion of stage 1 as he outlined, but we must also consider whether bringing legal proceedings forward might leave those indicted in no doubt of their accountability to international law, and perhaps provide them with the clearest view yet of the end-game approaching.
Finally, it is vital that the international community presents a united front in pursuing a clear strategy that increases the penalties on the Zimbabwean leaders, while showing that there is another way open if those who support them change their course.
Is my hon. Friend not also concerned about the reckless deportation under the auspices of the Home Office of a number of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers, with the consequence that they are seriously at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture, death or a grisly combination of all four? Does he agree that it is lamentable that a constituent of mine was told that he could safely be removed to Zimbabwe because, although he supported the MDC, he was not an office-holder in the MDC? Does that not show a degree of ignorance of the sheer viciousness of the Zimbabwean regime, as well as the extensiveness of its intelligence operations?
As usual, my hon. Friend speaks with great passion on this. Given what is going on in Zimbabwe—the actions of the Government, across the piece, against Opposition leaders, local people and business men, a legal system that does not work, and the actions of police and paramilitaries—the idea of deporting anybody is absolutely wrong. I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government will look again at any cases that they have before them.
The kind of pressure that I have been outlining could be achieved by defining a set of US and EU incentives and disincentives to accompany the sanctions, with specific benchmarks on Zimbabwe’s progress. We must make it clear that the international community stands ready to support and assist Zimbabwe if its leadership is prepared to make the dramatic change needed to give the country a truly democratically elected Government. I cannot see any circumstances in which President Mugabe is going to give in to such sanctions. He will step down only if members of his own coterie and political party remove him in one way or another, or if he is persuaded to do so through pressure from the powerful leaders of neighbouring countries who force him to recognise that his only way out is a retirement home in some third country where he will be given a suitable pension. Although I would regret his receiving such a pension, that would be in line with one or two other tyrants who have ruled in post-colonial Africa.
The international community must now take firm steps in a concerted manner, and many of us look to the British Government to take the lead. We should work closely with international partners to widen the EU sanctions list to include family members and business associates of the regime. Adding the governor of the reserve bank to the list and subjecting institutions in Zimbabwe that are instruments of the Government, and their members, to the same controls are ways in which further pressure can be applied to the regime’s Ministers and officials. A refusal to issue President Mugabe with an invitation to the EU/AU summit later this year would send a very plain message. If that is not possible, our Prime Minister should refuse to attend that summit. We should also consider action by the International Criminal Court and persuade southern African countries and institutions such as the AU and the Commonwealth to exploit their many points of influence with the Mugabe regime, which would squeeze his room for manoeuvre.
The spectre of disaster has hung over Zimbabwe for too long. Many of us have received messages, e-mails and letters from constituents who have friends and relatives there. We have a duty not only because of our colonial past but because of our international role. I genuinely believe that the Minister made the best she could of her script, but I am afraid that it was, at least for Conservative Members, totally unacceptable.
I share other Members’ concern about the absence of the Foreign Secretary. Given the amount of notice for this debate and its importance to Parliament—and, indeed, to my Government, given what the Prime Minister has said about Africa—it is very sad that the Foreign Secretary finds himself unable to attend, thereby allowing the shadow Foreign Secretary to re-book his flight to Washington, having cancelled it because it seemed on Monday that the Foreign Secretary was going to be here. I hope that that does not in any way reflect on the firmness of the Government’s commitment to do something quickly about Zimbabwe. It is a bad day for Parliament.
However, the fact that we are discussing Zimbabwe in the House will be a morale boost for the very many brave people I have got to know during my visits to Zimbabwe, and for Zimbabweans generally. As they endure ever-increasing hardship and oppression, we must continue to reaffirm our solidarity with them until they gain their liberation and dignity. That can come about only through absolutely free and fair elections that are internationally monitored.
I shall not go through a list of events, as the Minister has already done so, and they have been mentioned many times, but the recent news from Zimbabwe has been increasingly grim, as the regime’s rather cynical policy of enforcing price cuts takes effect. As with the earlier campaigns that destroyed commercial farming, and Operation Clear Out Rubbish, this operation has been carried out with ruthless efficiency, regardless of financial or human cost, and with the sole objective of entrenching ZANU-PF rule.
I am proud to be chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, many members of which are here today. During the past few years, I have felt it important to get inside Zimbabwe to see what is going on. I visited three times in the past three years, and saw Operation Clear Out Rubbish; I saw people having to abandon all their belongings as they were driven off who knows where.
I had a similar opportunity to visit in February 2004. I take the opportunity to invite the hon. Lady to pay generous tribute to David Banks, who once headed the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, and who is a tireless campaigner for liberty, freedom and justice in that country. He is a magnificent person who briefs a great many of us, and we should welcome his contribution.
I am sure that David Banks is the last person who would want to be thanked, but I know that he will appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said, and all of us who have worked with him have benefited from his welcome support and knowledge of Zimbabwe.
The purpose of my last visit was to show solidarity with the trade unionists who, hon. Members will remember, were beaten up when Mugabe unleashed a brutal crackdown last autumn. I was able to travel throughout Matabeleland, north and south, Mashonaland, west and east, and the midlands. I visited rural and urban areas and met people from many backgrounds. If people just go into Harare on business for a day, they might think that things are somehow normal in Zimbabwe, although it is difficult for anything to appear normal at the moment. It is important that we understand the deep-seated fear of such an absolutely brutal dictatorship. The regime has agents and informers everywhere, willing to betray those involved in any struggle for freedom.
The arrest of senior opposition leaders in March showed the shameless brutality of the regime. Many of those who were arrested are friends and comrades with whom I have shared danger during my visits, and many of them have visited Parliament and spoken at our meetings, such as Morgan Tsvangirai, Nelson Chamesa, Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinje of the Movement for Democratic Change; Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, who has been beaten up so many times over the years; Mike Davies of the Harare Residents Association; and Lovemore Matombo and Lucia Matibenga of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
I pay tribute to many of the British trade unions, which are taking a much greater interest in what is happening in Zimbabwe, and have hosted visits and support for the trade union movement. The list of people I mentioned is a roll call of those targeted by Central Intelligence Organisation agents and the militia in their systematic campaign of violence against anyone who poses a threat to Mugabe’s reign of terror and national destruction. We all saw the pictures of those people’s bloodied and beaten faces, and the brutal injuries sustained while they were recently in custody. They were shocking images. Even as we speak, and practically every night, somewhere in Zimbabwe the police or army are taking activists out of their homes. Many of them are never returned—their bodies are found later—and many are beaten up and tortured. There has been a systematic attempt, particularly during the past six weeks, to pick on people who are crucial grass-roots opposition activists.
However, those images were not shocking enough to draw any condemnation from the leaders of African nations. Mugabe has blatantly and unapologetically beaten and murdered people in Zimbabwe, yet he is still cheered and applauded by African leaders. It happened in May when he spoke at the Nairobi summit of COMESA—the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. I find that shameful. Getting rid of South Africa’s old regime was properly perceived as the business of the world, but South Africa’s leaders now dismiss Zimbabwe’s crisis as an internal matter to be tackled by the people of Zimbabwe.
Many people ask me, “Why don’t they just rise up?” One reason for Zimbabweans’ reluctance to protest on the streets and face the regime head on is that the Angolan, Mozambiquan and South African liberation movements knew that they had a safe haven in sympathetic neighbouring countries, but Zimbabwe is surrounded by countries that are either cheerleaders for Mugabe’s dictatorship or choose to turn a cowardly blind eye to the atrocities that he metes out to anyone who dares challenge his rule and his vanity. Zimbabweans who stand up to Mugabe’s disastrous rule should be welcomed with open arms as the front-line heroes of a new Africa. Instead, Thabo Mbeki defends the tired old men who have so miserably betrayed the dreams of their generation.
It is often said that politicians in the developed world must understand how they are perceived in Africa. However, African politicians must understand how they are seen in the rest of the world. One of our most important tasks is to help change international perception of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is far from stupid; he is a clever operator and he has manipulated world opinion, especially in the African region. He has also played on our memories of past struggles to paralyse progressive opinion, which should express outrage at what he is doing. We have to make it clear that it is as unacceptable to defend Robert Mugabe today as it would have been to defend Pinochet or Idi Amin in the past. I make no apology for saying that, unfortunately, Mugabe has been propped up by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and others in the region, who should be ashamed of themselves.
However, things are changing in South Africa. I was in Johannesburg earlier this year and I met representatives of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, on the day of their central executive committee. On that day, they issued a statement, which said that the congress would not close its eyes when President Mugabe’s Government trampled on workers and human rights while blaming all his country’s problems on imperialists. It is a great step forward that the South African trade union movement has recognised the Mugabe regime for what it is.
We in this country could have done more, even in the recent past. I pay tribute to everybody who works in our embassy in Harare—it is not easy working in a country such as Zimbabwe—especially Andrew Pocock, our ambassador. I was disappointed by the response to our wonderful embassy’s recent recommendation recently that Chingoka, the chairman of the Zimbabwean cricket board, should not be allowed to take part in the International Cricket Council at Lords because he had benefited through huge amounts of money from the corrupt operation of the cricket regime in Zimbabwe. The embassy’s advice was that he should not be given a visa. To be fair to the then Foreign Office Minister, Lord Triesman, I must add that he wanted to stop Chingoka coming here. But a discussion took place, and I am afraid that the then Minister for Sport said that it would be difficult for the English cricket authorities if Chingoka was not allowed in. They ended up with the compromise that he was allowed in for the four days of the conference rather than a bit longer. There was therefore a small attempt to do something.
However, only a few weeks earlier, John Howard in Australia said what he thought. He told Australian cricketers, “You’re not going to Zimbabwe.” The Australian cricket board said, “Great. Fine.” The International Cricket Council could not fine the board because its Government had told the cricketers that they could not go. No money went to Zimbabwe in compensation, which meant that it did not reach the pockets of the corrupt people who run cricket there. None of the money reaches Zimbabwe cricket grass roots. Time and again, we appear to shilly-shally and use the excuse of being the old imperial power, which does not wash any more.
I have huge regard for the hon. Lady and her brave efforts on behalf of Zimbabwe. Does she agree that those who say that we should keep politics out of sport are missing the point? If a cricket team from Vauxhall or Newbury went to Zimbabwe, that would be regrettable. If a cricket team from Berkshire or Surrey went to Zimbabwe, that would be undesirable. Once a player puts three lions on his shirt and plays for the national team, however, the game inevitably becomes political, and is used by leaders in countries such as Zimbabwe as an endorsement.
I absolutely agree. Even though the Zimbabwe first team is not coming here again soon, we could send an important signal by saying that we will not go. I would also like to add my voice to those who have called for sporting sanctions against Zimbabwe. If it was good enough to impose sporting sanctions against South Africa, it is certainly good enough to impose them against Zimbabwe.
During his recent state visit to this country, President Kufuor of Ghana, the chairman of the African Union, was harassed by some young Zimbabweans at a meeting at Chatham House, but he described what is happening in Zimbabwe as “embarrassing” to the AU. He then asked what more African nations could do. The answer is not necessarily that they should start doing certain things, but that they should stop doing them. For example, he might have started by not inviting Robert Mugabe to Ghana’s independence celebrations. We heard earlier about the extraordinary meeting of heads of state of the Southern African Development Community in Dar es Salaam in March to discuss the political, economic and security situation in Zimbabwe. The communiqué talked about how there had been free and fair presidential elections in 2002—an assessment that was not shared by the many international observers or by civil society in Zimbabwe. The communiqué made no mention of the parliamentary elections of 2005.
Mugabe and his African supporters have skilfully manoeuvred international opinion to get so-called engagement to be exactly what they wanted it to be. The international community was persuaded that the problem was an African crisis that needed an African solution, and handed it over to the African Union. The African Union was then relieved to hand over the hot potato to SADC, which then gave President Mbeki a feeble mandate to “facilitate dialogue”. We have ended up with a protracted process that merely buys time for Mugabe to continue plundering the economy and using brutality to persecute his opponents. I believe that Zimbabwe is in flagrant breach of the declared norms and standards of SADC. SADC nations should consider perhaps suspending Zimbabwe’s membership—but sadly, such a prospect is highly unlikely.
Nearly all the SADC countries are members of the Commonwealth, however. The crisis group report suggests that Commonwealth member countries in southern African should help to mediate a political settlement for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and set benchmarks for the country’s return to the Commonwealth. Let us not forget that when Nigeria and South Africa were out of the Commonwealth, this country still treated them as though they were part of it, and tried to continue dialogue behind the scenes. The Commonwealth should be doing more. Why is it not? Will the Minister say whether Zimbabwe will be on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala later this year? Indeed, have we asked it to be put on the agenda?
Too often, international experts are flown into Zimbabwe and hand out prescriptions without engaging with the local population. Zimbabwe is one of the most well educated and highly trained nations in Africa. The people have the necessary skills to rebuild the infrastructure of their own country. Massive international assistance will be needed, but that process must be led and implemented by Zimbabweans. There are encouraging signs that the Commonwealth will help to facilitate a partnership for reconstruction, commissioned by the people of Zimbabwe and accountable to them. I hope that DFID and the FCO will do all that they can to support such initiatives.
The Government should try to re-internationalise the crisis. The time is drawing near when, if there is no sign of progress when Mbeki reports back in August, our Prime Minister should convene a summit with SADC and other Commonwealth and European Union member states, to develop a co-ordinated international strategy of incentives and disincentives that will bring about change in Zimbabwe. They should sometimes include reassigning the aid budgets for other AU nations, especially those that prop up Mugabe, to bring home to them the massive costs arising from their inaction and complicity. We cannot go on footing the bill. My constituents in the inner-city area of Vauxhall are paying for Mugabe’s madness. This week, the White House would deliver a massive amount of new aid to feed 1.4 million people until the country’s next harvest in 2008. Last night, it was announced in the Lords that the Department for International Development was committing £50 million more to extend the protracted relief programme.
Ironically, however, it is international aid—the food aid provided bilaterally and by UN agencies without condition or consultation since 2001—that keeps Mugabe going. It has been unquestioningly supported by the donor nations of the developed world. By “unquestioningly”, I mean that the accepted wisdom of aid giving is that it is apolitical. Yet in this instance, a cunning regime has co-opted donor aid as a vital plank of its strategy of political control and oppression. I have seen for myself the way in which food was withheld from areas of the country where people had dared to vote for the Opposition.
In the Zimbabwean context everything is political, and the sooner the aid agencies recognise that, the better. We have to end the holier-than-thou attitude of the aid agencies that say that political considerations are beneath them. It is madness to commit ever larger amounts of our aid budget to dealing with symptoms without funding a cure. As we give this money, we should also give support to the trade unions and other elements of civil society that are starved of resources as they struggle to survive in Zimbabwe. How can we expect a vibrant alternative to the regime to flourish and be effective unless we give it the support that it needs? If we applied just a fraction of our humanitarian aid budget to supporting the very capable elements in Zimbabwe that offer a real alternative to the present disastrous regime, we might find that we could start to invest in the recovery of Zimbabwe, rather than simply providing sticking plasters for its bleeding wounds.
Benjamin Paradza was a commander in ZANLA during the liberation war, and he went on to become a High Court judge in Zimbabwe before he had to leave. In an e-mail earlier this week, he said:
“A humanitarian crisis is brewing in Zimbabwe of a scale never seen before. What Zimbabweans need to know is not that the British government is giving humanitarian aid. Most of it does not reach the intended beneficiaries anyway. They do not want to hear that when things change in Zimbabwe, there is a rescue plan to kick-start the economy. Yes, all that is most welcome. Zimbabwe will undoubtedly need a lot of international assistance to rebuild the economy and other institutions. What they need most at the moment, as a matter of urgency, is some positive move by the international community, possibly through the UN, to rescue the people from this crisis. Never mind the noises Mugabe makes and will always make about recolonisation, or the old artificial notions of sovereignty and imperialism. Mugabe’s noises are just noises, well manufactured to draw world attention. This should not be allowed to scare the international community from the responsibility to protect (or to rescue) people under siege by tyrants like him.”
That is something that the Minister should be listening to.
I shall conclude—because a lot of Members want to speak, although not from my side of the House—by saying that external commentators and donors have been very prescriptive. They are keen to tell Zimbabwean Opposition politicians what to do. They are always saying that the Movement for Democratic Change must find ways of taking back into the mainstream those who have chosen to leave. This overlooks the fact that that might not be what Zimbabweans want. Democracy is about diversity, and it seems odd that in a struggle against a one-party dictatorship, we should try to engineer a one-party Opposition. In recent weeks, the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe met a delegation from the Save Zimbabwe Campaign that included leaders of three political parties, including Morgan Tsvangirai, who showed that it was possible to work together and to live with diversity. That should be welcomed as a much-needed development for African politics.
Finally, I would find it unbelievable if our Prime Minister, with all his commitment to Africa, were to allow any Minister of Her Majesty’s Government to attend any conference that Mugabe was going to attend. We should be putting pressure on the Portuguese presidency so that they do not even think of asking him, let alone have discussions—about which I discovered in response to my question yesterday—to seek “a diplomatic solution”. I am not interested in a diplomatic solution. I am interested in a solution that tells Mugabe right now that he will not be coming to any summit, and a solution that says to other African leaders that they will not be coming to any summit as it will not be happening if Mugabe is there. We need to get some of these African leaders to stop thinking that they can have it both ways: that they can talk to us about democracy, take our aid, expect us to stick up for them when there are problems in their country, and then turn a totally blind eye to what is going on, partly in their name, in Zimbabwe.
I want Ministers to respond to these issues. Not being a cynical person, I could not possibly be cynical enough to suspect that the reason why the Foreign Secretary did not open the debate today was that he did not actually want to face up to making a commitment on the AU-EU summit. It is much easier to leave it to a junior Minister. I am not criticising the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was put in a difficult position. The truth is that most hon. Members who are here today know a huge amount about Zimbabwe, which is why we are all here. Nevertheless, it is very sad that with the House about to go on leave for so many weeks, we cannot get a straight answer. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will give a straight answer and tell us whether the Prime Minister said what he is supposed to have said, according to The Sunday Times—and if he did not say it, I hope that we will be told why not. An answer to that question by 6 o’clock would, I am sure, be greatly appreciated.
My first ever visit to Africa was more than 30 years ago, and it was in the presence of the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He was then president of the National Union of Students and I was the vice-president, and we went to the African Commonwealth students conference in Ghana. I pay tribute to the Lord Chancellor, who, when he was Leader of the House, made sure that we secured this debate. It is rather ironic, however, that one of the reasons why he kept putting the debate off was that he wanted to have it at a time when the appropriate Minister would be here. We secured the debate today, and we all thought that that was fantastic. However, we do not even have a Minister for Africa in the House of Commons. We have some new Minister in the House of Lords whose name I have not yet learned to pronounce. I have yet to see him, and would not recognise him if he were sitting up there in the Gallery. I am amazed that as well as not having a Minister for Africa, we do not possess a Foreign Secretary who is prepared to debate Zimbabwe—even just to make the opening statement today. I must say that I am very sad about what has happened. Nevertheless, we are putting what needs to be said about Zimbabwe on the record.
I mentioned first being in Africa with the NUS, and I would like to finish by quoting one of the leaders of the Zimbabwean students union ZINASU—Washington Katema, who visited us recently. He is so brave. It is just amazing how brave some of these people are to go back to Zimbabwe after being here, not even knowing whether they will be allowed through when they arrive. They always dread having their passports taken away from them. While he was at Westminster, he said:
“How can a government that came from the premise of liberating its people treat its own children worse than the racist…regime of Ian Smith? It is sad to note the failure of our liberation movements in transforming the standards of people’s lives. While clothed in empty Pan African rhetoric, it has not brought any meaningful improvement to people’s lives. Mbeki should not dupe the pro-democratic movements of Zimbabwe into abandoning the most viable route to their emancipation, that is through mass actions and street struggles.”
I pay tribute to all such people in Zimbabwe, and I say to our Government that we should be leading the world on this issue. Forget the colonial tag. Get out there and make the EU and the UN take what is happening in Zimbabwe seriously.
I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) for her eloquent contribution to the debate. I also pay tribute to the work of the all-party group on this subject. The hon. Lady expressed concerns that I share, particularly the absence of the Foreign Secretary from today’s debate. A number of probing questions have already been raised and it would have been good if they had been answered directly by the Foreign Secretary. We at least secured the promise in the opening statement of another debate later in the year. We hope that the House will be given more and clearer answers at that time.
Zimbabwe shares the problems and misery of many African nations: famine, health problems such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, poverty, conflict, corruption, unemployment and too many guns. Other countries in the region, such as Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, have similar problems. By and large, however, the Governments of those countries are working with their people, neighbours and outside donors to help to provide a solution. In Zimbabwe, however, as in Sudan, the Government are part of the problem.
As was mentioned in the opening statement, leadership is a key component of the solution. There have not been enough Nelson Mandelas, and Zimbabwe has the complete opposite of an inspirational leader. We have heard today about some of the problems, which I shall try not to repeat in order to allow other Members to contribute to the debate. In Sudan, as we have heard, the problem is called genocide. Whatever people call the current situation in Zimbabwe, we want to hear what can be done about it, but we have not yet heard much about that from the Government. I hope that we will hear more in the summing-up.
On this day of two parliamentary by-elections in the UK, it is appropriate to reflect on the state of democracy and civil society elsewhere in the world. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) has mentioned the issue of asylum seekers. I had an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe in my constituency office some time ago. He was a political activist who had been arrested, beaten up, tortured and buried in a shallow grave. Fortunately, he and another person who were left in that shallow grave overnight managed to escape. That was the price that he paid for being an active opposition politician.
It is difficult for us to calculate the dangers faced by those who seek asylum in the UK. That asylum seeker did not want to be here—his wife and young child were in Zimbabwe and he wanted to return there. He believed, however, that were he sent back to Zimbabwe, he would be killed. He said that he would rather kill himself and have a quick end in this country than suffer a long, slow torture and eventual death in Zimbabwe. It is an outrage that we often send back asylum seekers to face who knows what.
In Zimbabwe, with the 2008 elections looming, the prospect of free and fair elections and the establishment of a real representative democracy look ever more distant and unlikely. The Liberal Democrats very much welcome the opportunity to debate Zimbabwe. Other right hon. and hon. Members have eloquently detailed the scale of the devastation affecting that country. Famine is ever more widespread, with the situation seeming to get a little worse almost every week.
It is also important, however, to remember what Zimbabwe was like prior to Robert Mugabe’s destructive influence. In 1980, when Mugabe came to power, the average annual income in Zimbabwe was $950, and at that time a Zimbabwean dollar was worth more than an American dollar. By 2003, the average income was less than $400, and the Zimbabwean economy was in freefall. Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, during which he has led it from being an impressive country with a hopeful future to probably the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country in the world. Zimbabwe has gone from being one of the potential success stories of Africa to languishing at 151st out of 177 countries, in the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index.
While Mugabe may wish to blame Zimbabwe’s problems variously on the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, the reality is that the downfall of the country rests very much on his shoulders. Zimbabwe as a country was not destined to fail; it has failed because a corrupt leadership has persecuted its own people and poisoned its politics.
In Zimbabwe today, hundreds of people continue to be arrested for participating or attempting to engage in peaceful protest. While the police have been accused of torturing human rights campaigners in custody, the independence of the judiciary has been compromised and there is little if any room for freedom of expression. Zimbabwe is under martial law in all but name.
Political party activists, trade unionists, journalists, lawyers, students, the youth movement and women activists are all targets, as the Government continue to sponsor violence, torture and brutal oppression of its own citizens. This repression was shown in graphic detail to the world on 11 March with the beating of the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and many others. It is worth remembering that the film of that event made its way on to our screens only after being smuggled out of the country at great risk. We can only imagine the similar crimes of political oppression that go unreported and unseen.
It is worth noting, on a small and probably rare point of optimism in the debate, that the regularity of the protests against the Government since February this year seem to be on the rise, as does the willingness of protesters to stand up against police oppression. On that point, I put on record our tribute to those Zimbabweans who are trying to oppose the brutal regime in the most difficult and hostile circumstances.
While political freedoms are in decline, the utter collapse of the economy, which was mentioned earlier, and the resulting poverty are equally tragic. Others have mentioned the figures. The unemployment rate is more than 85 per cent. There is debate as to what the inflation level stands at. It is officially 4,530 per cent.; others say that it is above 1,000 per cent. Some analysts have predicted that it may reach 1 million per cent.
It was recently claimed by a former US ambassador, Chris Dell, that
“Historically, no regime has ever survived six or seven-digit inflation.”
Only time will tell whether that is the case with Zimbabwe. What is certain, though, is the dire consequences of that economic devastation for the people, with more than 4 million dependent on food aid because they cannot afford to buy their own food. Many survive only on remittances from abroad. For this, we should all pay tribute to Zimbabweans in this country who are playing their part to ease the suffering in their country. I would welcome the Minister’s view on what we can do to help Zimbabweans return in an orderly way if and when there is regime change in Zimbabwe and once transition is under way so that they can help rebuild their country without jeopardising their immigration status in this country.
I remember, as other hon. Members will, a time when Zimbabwe was the bread-basket of the region. Today it can no longer feed its own citizens and is using food as another political tool of repression and intimidation; the regime prioritises its supporters while denying food to those who stand up for democracy and human rights. To make matters worse, the Government continue to obstruct humanitarian aid agencies. The NGO Bill passed by the Government in 2004 may still be awaiting Mugabe’s signature, but it is having a major impact on what NGOs are able to achieve. It is estimated that thousands, possibly 3,000, die from AIDS-related illnesses, yet Mugabe’s regime is not willing to allow full access to the country to aid agencies that could help.
The Foreign Secretary, who will no doubt read this debate, has been commendably robust in his dealings with Russia this week. However, if ever there was a regime with which Britain needed to flex its diplomatic muscles, it is surely Zimbabwe. Tough statements in this place will get us only so far. The time is right to look afresh at what we can do. I hope that we will hear at the end of the debate today an answer to some of the questions that have been posed today. I seek fresh assurances today that the Government are doing all that they can to bring pressure to bear on President Mugabe, both by encouraging solidarity among the international community and by urging our EU partners rigorously to enforce the economic sanctions and travel bans that are in place.
I know that the previous Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister both expressed their intention to push for increased sanctions and targeted measures against Mugabe’s regime. We would welcome that and would like to see a tightening of EU sanctions by considering further financial and travel restrictions. I would welcome an update from the Minister on any progress in that regard.
Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely essential to ensure that the Mugabe regime cannot be represented at the summit in Portugal? There has been no clear answer to that and we hope that we will have one by the end of the debate. It would be a betrayal of the suffering of those in Zimbabwe if we were to give a platform and an air of legitimacy to Mugabe by allowing him to attend that summit. It would also call into question the credibility of our sanctions— something we cannot afford.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of other African nations accepting that the crisis in Zimbabwe is the responsibility of all Africa, not just Zimbabweans. Along with the crisis in Sudan, Zimbabwe will be a key test of African co-operation and diplomacy. South Africa and SADC are key players and exert considerable influence in Zimbabwe. The condemnation by South Africa of the beatings of Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe earlier this year was welcome, but it was the first time I can recall any public condemnation of the human rights abuses of Mugabe and his regime.
I would also like to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing to persuade South Africa that refusing to acknowledge human rights abuses and political oppression is not in its best interest and is not their best approach to the problem.
On the issue of not sweeping Mugabe's crimes under the carpet, I invite the Minister today to give fresh assurances that there is no prospect of any deal whereby in order to facilitate Mugabe's political demise, he might get some sort of deal letting him off the hook for all his crimes against humanity. I am sure the Minister would agree that that would be entirely unacceptable and I invite him to underline that view today.
I said in my introduction that Mugabe was responsible for the current state of Zimbabwe. While few would dispute that, it does not mean that removing Mugabe will remove the corruption or reverse the economic disaster that he has created. Even when Mugabe goes—he will go eventually, and we will all welcome that day—and is no longer in power, we have to accept that Zimbabwe as a nation is simply not yet geared up for democracy. Other hon. Members may also have seen the comments of a former Zimbabwean trade Minister who said:
“I don't think in the last fifty years that Zimbabwe has ever known democracy.”
I am afraid that Mugabe has created a political system in an image of himself and it is one that will outlast him.
The emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change around 2000 provoked much optimism in Zimbabwe and among the international community about possible political change. However, since the split and the problems of 2005, the Opposition have almost imploded and although the two factions look likely to fight the 2008 elections under one banner, it has been a hugely damaging few years for both sides. Worryingly, both sides of the MDC have shown themselves to be unable to make a clean break with the traditions of post-colonial Zimbabwe. That mindset will not be removed when Mugabe is gone. The recent alleged coup and its aftermath give us an unpleasant picture of how a post-Mugabe power-struggle might unfold.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. However, the problems for political parties in Zimbabwe are so huge compared with parties considering splitting or making new alliances in this country. Here, there is almost an encouragement to shift political concentration. In Zimbabwe, the Opposition have enough problems anyway without internal splits. I wish them well in being an effective Opposition.
Getting rid of Mugabe would be a start, but that is all. We may have to brace ourselves for the prospect of the situation getting worse before it gets better. On that point I would welcome the Minister’s comments on the crucial issue of what aid we can provide in the event of Mugabe’s downfall or a change in regime. It is important to ensure that we are able to respond rapidly and effectively to help the people of Zimbabwe. I would especially like to know what mechanisms for transition and reconstruction are in place and what guarantees on transition to a free and democratic Zimbabwe the Government and other donors would require.
Zimbabwe is not at war, but it bears all the hallmarks of a conflict country. If there were a power transition in Zimbabwe, may I ask the Minister whether it would be possible to treat it as a post-conflict state in order to gather maximum support for a programme of sequenced humanitarian aid, stabilisation and reconstruction?
First, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) for doing so much to keep the issue of Zimbabwe on the agenda in this place and elsewhere, and for the courageous manner in which she has pursued her cause. I also wish to say that I have some sympathy for the Minister, as she is only the latest in a series of hapless Foreign Office Ministers—I was myself one—who have been put up to deal with debates and answer questions on Africa even though they might never have set foot on that continent. That is because for the past two years and more the Africa Minister has sat in the House of Lords.
I yield to no one in my respect for Lord Triesman, who succeeded me in that post; he is held in great esteem in the other place and was a most effective Africa Minister. However, it is a bit of a problem—I do not put it more strongly than that—that there is no Foreign Office Minister in the Commons who deals on a daily basis with African issues and can answer questions.
The rapid turnover is also a bit of a problem. I should declare an interest: I was this Government’s sixth Africa Minister, Lord Triesman was the seventh and Lord Malloch-Brown is the eighth. I remember an occasion when an African leader said to me that he had visited the United Kingdom four times but he had never met the same Africa Minister twice. That creates a problem for our relations with Africa. We say that we care about Africa, and we do—we take Africa seriously from the Prime Minister down—but the high turnover of Africa Ministers means that no one has a consistent grip on African issues.
I spent two happy years as Africa Minister at the Foreign Office even though there were many enormous African issues to deal with—many of them bigger than Zimbabwe in terms of scale of catastrophe and human suffering, such as events in the Congo region, Angola, Sudan and Liberia. However, Zimbabwe occupied more of my time than any other issue—and I, like the Minister, had to come to the Dispatch Box to be lambasted by the Opposition for not doing enough, even though we were doing everything in our power to keep Zimbabwe on the international agenda.
I am ambivalent about House of Commons debates on Zimbabwe. We have had a lot—although I acknowledge that not all have been held in the Chamber—and despite the fact that we all agree that Mugabe’s rule has been catastrophic and that he has inflicted ruin on his people and that he should leave office as soon as possible, such debates to some extent play into his hands. Whether we like it or not, he has succeeded in convincing many Africans leaders and Africans that this is a bilateral dispute between himself and the former colonial power—although I am glad that that argument is now becoming threadbare.
There is another problem with such debates. I mean no disrespect to any Member present, but usually only the usual suspects take part—I see that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), a veteran of many such debates, is smiling. In those debates Members propose prescriptions that frequently stop just short of a British invasion—although I have not heard such calls this afternoon. While that may enable us to go home feeling good about ourselves, it has not changed anything at all in Zimbabwe and has potentially done some damage in giving Mugabe yet another little stick with which to beat us. The painful truth is that our influence is limited. Yes, we can add or subtract a name from the EU travel ban or regret that Mugabe has been invited to the Lisbon summit. He should not have been, and I am confident that we did our best to stop him being invited—
In that case, I hope that Mugabe will not be invited, but I dare to contemplate the possibility that he will be. In any case, I know that we will strongly resist. Then there is the issue of whether the Prime Minister should go, or the Foreign Secretary or a junior Minister. The problem is that it is a summit about Africa and there are other equally important issues that require the attention of Ministers. We can also argue about whether our cricket team should be banned from touring, but the painful truth is that short of putting the hon. Member for Macclesfield in a gunboat and sending him up the Zambezi, there are no original solutions left that we could impose on that tragic situation.
The bottom line is that, as has been said this afternoon, this is ultimately an African problem and it requires an African solution. I share the general disappointment at the silence of African leaders—with a handful of honourable exceptions—of the AU and of SADC. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall pointed out, some of those have acted as cheerleaders. They have not merely been silent, but have acted disgracefully. I have had many conversations with African Heads of State and Government about Zimbabwe. Many of them have been very critical of Mugabe in private, but that has not translated in what they have said to the outside world. I remember meeting one Head of State immediately before he was due to go into a session at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria in 2004 and he was very robust in what he said about Mugabe. He was from a more or less neighbouring country and I suggested he make those points when he got into the meeting. He said that he would, but when I asked the then Prime Minister afterwards whether so-and-so had had anything to say on the issue, he said, “Not a peep.” Unfortunately, that has happened fairly often.
The Foreign Minister of a west African country once described the problem to me as the great liberator syndrome. He said that Africa was full of great liberators who have gone on to ruin their countries. I shall not name his country, but he added, “And we should know”—as indeed he should.
As I have said, I was present at the Abuja CHOGM in 2004 and I am sorry to say that President Mbeki did not act as some sort of neutral mediator on the issue of whether Zimbabwe should be readmitted—it would have brought humiliation on us had that happened—but as an agent of Mugabe, and the issue dominated that summit to the exclusion of many other important issues. Even at this late stage, however, I hope that South Africa can be persuaded to intervene decisively to bring this catastrophe to an end. It is deeply in its interests to do so, as it has the best part of 2 million refugees from Zimbabwe and that must be having a serious impact on its economy. The South Africans are well aware of the problem and, as my hon. Friend said, some of them are beginning to speak out.
My hon. Friend also pointed out that African leaders cannot have things both ways. They cannot make wonderful speeches at the AU about their love of democracy and so forth, then go home and rig their constitutions so that they get third or fourth terms in office and still expect the assistance of the outside world. Neither can they expect to invite the outside world to get involved in a cause such as South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement—and they were very happy to have the outside world’s interest in that—and then say that the things that are happening now on their own doorsteps are no one else’s business. That is completely unacceptable.
I look forward to the day when more African leaders come from the new generation. Rightly or wrongly, many people regard Mugabe as a hero of the liberation struggle, but not many more of his ilk are left. He is the last of that generation, so we will probably not face the same problem again.
Whatever happens in Zimbabwe, the end is in sight. We can demand that the British Government do this or that, but the truth is that the person inflicting the most damage on the country and its regime is Mugabe himself. He is bringing it down, and it will fall around his ears unless a compromise is found that allows him to be evacuated into a safe retirement. His regime cannot survive the present levels of inflation, and little that we do or do not do will make any difference.
The end is close, so we need to spend a little time talking about what comes next, because that will not be easy. When the time comes to try to stabilise Zimbabwe, we will have to work with some of the people who are mixed up with the present regime. That may be distasteful, but it is a fact of life and we have to think about it. I do not know whether or not Mr. Gono should be added to the travel ban, but in the end we will have to work with someone who knows about economics in Zimbabwe. I am not asserting that it will be him, merely raising it as a possibility that we should not exclude.
When the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), sums up the debate, I hope that he will say something about how he imagines that the international community will be able to help when the regime falls. We are within sight of that and, although I appreciate that he will not be able to go into much detail, we need some assurance that plans are being laid and that we are talking with our EU and African partners, and with other international contacts, about what exactly will happen when the end comes. Obviously, we cannot be too prescriptive, as we do not know how the end will occur. We pray that the transition will be peaceful, with no more bloodshed or catastrophe, but we cannot rule such things out.
The most we can say to the Zimbabweans is, “We are with you. We support you. We want your beautiful country to be put back together again, and we stand ready to help. You have not been forgotten.” However, I hope that we do not get involved in too much posturing about who said what to whom, and who should or should not be banned. In the end, all that is fairly irrelevant to the big picture.
We should welcome the fact that the end is coming. On many occasions, hon. Members of all parties, in the Government and on the Back Benches, have made their views clear. We must be ready to help when the time comes.
We have heard some powerful speeches today, but I am sad to say that I must begin by questioning whether the Government were entirely wise in letting this debate go ahead. The whole point of holding a debate like this in the House of Commons should have been to send a powerful message to Zimbabwe, Mugabe, the AU and others about the British Government’s determination in this matter. For whatever reason, however, the Foreign Secretary was unable to take part, and that has served to reduce the debate’s value.
In addition, the Minister’s opening speech contained nothing new—I do not blame her for that—but what she was unable to say had the effect of putting us back a little. Far from being able to confirm the clear indication given to the press that the Prime Minister would not attend any summit attended by Mugabe, she refused to be drawn on the matter. There might be reasons for that, but given that there will probably be another debate on Zimbabwe later in the year, I have to question whether today’s debate has been in the interests of that country’s people.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), in his statement on Zimbabwe on 26 March, confirmed that the French had banned Mr. Mugabe from going to the French-African summit last February, and does he not think that the British Government, by declaring today that they will not attend the AU-EU summit, could do exactly the same thing as the French?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There is a process not just of putting pressure on Mugabe, but of applying pressure within the European Union. Clear messages of that kind from the United Kingdom at this stage need to be given not just privately, but publicly if they are to have the full weight that we would wish.
The whole issue of Zimbabwe, and, formerly, of Southern Rhodesia, has dominated debates in the House for many years. I could not help but recollect that my maiden speech in this Chamber, 33 years ago, was on what was then Southern Rhodesia. I can trump the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), because my first visit to Southern Rhodesia was in 1967. I lived and worked in what was then Salisbury and is now Harare for almost two years. I taught at the then university college of Rhodesia and got to know the country very well indeed.
I have various recollections of that period. Even at that time, in the 1960s, the university was a multiracial university of black and white students. When I left the university, I lost touch with most of them. However, in 1979, when I first became a member of the Government, I received totally out of the blue a letter from one of my former black students, who wrote on headed notepaper from Harare: “Dear Mr. Rifkind, I am writing to congratulate you on your appointment as a junior Minister in the British Government. As you can see from the notepaper, I am now Foreign Minister.” That was an interesting indicator of the unpredictability of public life.
It is worth remembering that, at the time of the Lancaster House conference, there was great optimism—justifiably so—about the future prospects of what was becoming Zimbabwe. First, the transition from the Smith regime to an elected Government happened peacefully thanks to the consequences of the Lancaster House conference. Secondly, and equally importantly, the vast majority of the white minority had agreed to continue living in the country. They were prepared to accept that there was a prospect of a future for both black and white. We were seeing the emergence of a black middle class and the Zimbabwean economy began in a very strong way.
I would go one stage further: part of the reason why we were optimistic was the attitude of Robert Mugabe at that time and for several years thereafter—with the terrible exception of what happened in Matabeleland. Right at the beginning, Mugabe accepted the advice he got from Samora Machel, who said, “Do not make the mistake we made in Mozambique when we thought we could do without the Portuguese and our economy collapsed.” Mugabe accepted that advice and gave assurances to the white community. To a considerable extent, for the first few years he honoured those assurances, which provided a period of stability in the country.
In addition, although Mugabe went through the rhetoric of “Comrade This” and “Comrade That” and meetings of the politburo in Harare, the economic policy that was pursued was not significantly different from the policy of his predecessors, which also enhanced the stability of the country. Furthermore, I pay credit to the fact that he allowed Ian Smith—who had locked Mugabe up for many years in Rhodesian prisons—not only to remain at liberty but to sit in the Parliament of Zimbabwe, albeit obviously without any real power.
In those early years, there was some practical reason to believe that, whatever Mugabe’s background and innermost ideological thoughts, he had realised what the interests of his country needed at that time. So why did things change in such a fundamental way? It was essentially because the policies being pursued, although moderate, were increasingly unpopular within Zimbabwe and Mugabe realised that, far from being able to assume that elections would give him power for the rest of his life, free elections would drive him out of power. We all know what the consequences of that have been. As a number of hon. Members have said, instead of Zimbabwe being the bread-basket of Africa, it has become the basket-case of Africa, in a very depressing and miserable fashion.
What flows from that? There have been two external tragedies that have added to the woes of Zimbabwe. The first is the attitude of the African Union. It is a matter of considerable sadness that the African Union, which was created in order not to continue with the foolish attitudes and priorities of the old Organisation of African Unity, has copied some of its worst mistakes. We see that most vividly in the case of its attitude towards Zimbabwe.
The assumption that criticism of Mugabe’s record on human rights is evidence of a colonial mentality is increasingly absurd, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall rightly emphasised. The United Kingdom has been equally determined to ensure that it condemns and brings to the forefront of public attention human rights abuses in any country in the world, including those with which we have no colonial links. Indeed, I recall dealing with the banning of Solidarity in Poland when I was in the Foreign Office. When I insisted on meeting members of Solidarity at the British embassy in Warsaw, General Jaruzelski publicly accused me and the British Government of treating Poland as if it was a former British colony, thus implying that this is something that all British Governments inevitably find themselves doing. The African Union needs to reconsider how it can best serve the interests of its continent and people.
The other deep disappointment is South Africa. I am wrong to say that; it is President Thabo Mbeki. People such as Nelson Mandela have been unequivocal in their condemnation of Mugabe. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “We in South Africa should be ashamed of ourselves because we are not bringing more pressure on Mugabe.” Mbeki should reflect on the fact if he looks at the history of his country and region that it was only when P. W. Botha, his white predecessor, decided to withdraw support from Ian Smith that the Government of Southern Rhodesia were forced to accept that the whole unilateral declaration of independence experiment had totally failed. That was when steps began, first involving Muzorewa and then leading to Lancaster House. South Africa is not just a neighbour of Zimbabwe. As we know from historical experience, it is the one country that can have an impact on what any Government of Zimbabwe can contemplate at any time that is not only profound, but decisive. If Thabo Mbeki declines to use such authority and power, he has personal responsibility for the continuing suffering of Zimbabwe and the implications of that for his country, because 2 million or 3 million Zimbabwean refugees are living in South Africa, which inevitably has a damaging impact on that country’s economy.
Where do we go from here? What are the prospects for the United Kingdom or other countries being able to bring some pressure? Let me turn to the African Union-European Union summit. It is not unreasonable to point out that it is seven years since there has been an AU-EU summit, which is a long time. Such a summit would be desirable, but we have waited seven years, so no one should be too alarmed if we have to wait a few more, if the alternative is to destroy all credibility in the policy that the EU has adopted to try to deal with the problem of Mugabe and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Africa has more to lose than Europe if European-African co-operation is not enhanced. It will benefit most if a summit takes place and that leads to improvements in the economic and trading relationships between Europe and Africa.
Everything now centres on the question of whether Mugabe will be invited to attend the summit. Some rather disturbing remarks have been made. Mr. Sócrates, the Prime Minister of Portugal, has said:
“Appropriate diplomatic formulae will be found”,
thus suggesting that there is a method of inviting Mr. Mugabe not as the President of Zimbabwe, but as a simple participant in an intergovernmental conference, as if that would somehow resolve the difficulty. On 3 July, The Daily Telegraph reported an unnamed British official as saying of Mugabe:
“The issue of whether he is there or not should not detract from the substance or overshadow the summit”.
If those words are taken literally, they are very disturbing. That British official could not have got it more wrong. There can be no doubt that whether Mugabe is there or not will totally dominate the summit and preclude any progress on other issues.
If Mugabe is to attend, it is not a question of his simply being issued with an invitation. The EU has a ban on Mr. Mugabe visiting EU countries. I have with me a copy of the Official Journal of the European Union. The rules permit exceptions to be made, but they clearly say that any member state can object if a country—presumably Portugal in this case—wishes to get an exemption to allow Mr. Mugabe to visit Lisbon. If an objection is made, a vote under qualified majority voting is required for an exemption to be made.
The very least that we ask—we expect the Minister to respond to this point later today—is an assurance that if it is proposed that we depart from the rules banning Mugabe from visiting an EU country, the UK will object, and will require a vote to take place. My view, and I suspect the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is that even if a majority voted to invite him, through some mistaken judgment, the British Government should have already made it clear that if Mugabe is in Lisbon, the British Government will not be there—and I do not just mean the Prime Minister; there would be little impact if he was absent but the Foreign Secretary was there.
The United Kingdom should make it abundantly clear that the UK will not take part in an EU-AU summit if Mr. Mugabe is present in Lisbon, but that has to be made clear well in advance, so that other member states know the kind of stakes for which we are playing. It is important to play for very high stakes, because the sadness is that if the African Union will not champion the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, and if the European Union starts deserting the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, who is left? Who would speak out for their requirements if that depressing situation arose?
I will not speak for much longer, because I want to allow hon. Friends and other hon. Members to speak, but I make one final point: the past 30 or 40 years have been a difficult period in the history of Africa, partly for reasons beyond the control of many African states. Most states across the world came about when a nation was already in existence. The Italian nation existed, and it created an Italian state. The German nation existed before there was a German state. In Africa, because of the colonial experience, it happened the other way round: states were created in the 1960s, but for the most part they had artificial borders, and there was no sense of national identity. That has made it very difficult for many African countries to realise their aspirations, and that is one of the reasons why Africa has so many failed states, even compared with other parts of the world.
Even taking that background into account, the sad and terrible fact is that Zimbabwe was one of the countries least exposed to such concerns, because it had a degree of homogeneity. The Ndebele and Shona populations were mostly to be found within the borders of the old Southern Rhodesia, and the creation of the state of Zimbabwe followed a greater natural logic than many other African countries, as it was between the Limpopo and the Zambezi. In addition, unlike most of sub-Saharan Africa, because of the Southern Rhodesian period, Zimbabwe inherited an impressive infrastructure, including a working civil service, experience of the rule of law, a free press, and various other instruments of government. It should have seen that as a great benefit and advantage. That has been squandered; that is the tragedy of the people of Zimbabwe, and the personal responsibility of Robert Mugabe.
The British Government’s responsibility is more important than perhaps it ought to be. The African Union is declining to exercise its responsibility, the South African President will not, I fear, change his view, and other countries around the world do not have our knowledge or experience of the reality of Zimbabwe. If the British Government are to carry the influence and the impact that they ought to, there must be greater clarity of policy. There must be a willingness to exercise diplomacy, and not just privately, in the corridors of the EU. There must be public exposition of the policy, because in the current rather difficult situation, every available weapon must be at our disposal and fully used. The development of public opinion is a weapon that can be used only if we are prepared to be robust, not only privately but publicly, and we could do a lot worse than to start on that course about an hour and a half from now.
I am pleased to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). He clearly has considerable experience of what is now Zimbabwe and what was, when he first went there, Southern Rhodesia. Although I cannot go back quite as far as he does, I was there a number of times during the early and middle 1970s. I was also paying a visit to what was then Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, as the interim Government of that country under Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Chief Chirau and others flew off to London to the Lancaster House talks.
One conversation sticks firmly in my mind. The then President of Zimbabwe Rhodesia was a Matabele, President Gumede. In the grounds of Government house, over a wonderful cup of tea, he turned to me very solemnly and said, “Mr. Winterton, I am sad. If only the free civilised western world would allow our country to solve our problems our way, we would produce the right result.” He continued, “As it is, my Government has left Salisbury”, as it was then, “as the Government, but it will come back from Lancaster House as nothing.” I thought that that was significant. He went on to say, “That will give a very clear message to the people of our country that the Government that was the Government is not the Government or the party for which they should vote.”
We know the result. What my right hon. and learned Friend said about the first few years of Robert Mugabe’s Government was correct. Yes, it was stable. There were 20 reserved seats for the whites in the Zimbabwe Parliament. Yes, he sought to maintain stability and perhaps even to practise what Archbishop Tutu recommended—reconciliation. We all felt that perhaps there would be success and prosperity for that wonderful country. What happened has been brushed over. I intervened from a sedentary position on the Minister when she said that the first 10 years were all brightness, prosperity and goodness. She overlooked the slaughter of 20,000 Matabele by the Korean-trained 5th brigade of Mr. Mugabe’s army. That should not be underestimated or forgotten. It was genocide. Perhaps it indicated what Mr. Mugabe might ultimately do, and we know what he has done.
The contribution of my right hon. and learned Friend to the debate was extremely helpful. He sketched the macro-historical background, as did the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who made a philosophical and very helpful speech, in which he said that the problems of Zimbabwe can be solved only in Africa by African nations. He is absolutely right. My right hon. and learned Friend stressed the role that Thabo Mbeki and the Government of South Africa can play. President Mbeki can switch on and switch off the future of Mr. Mugabe and his Administration in Zimbabwe.
I pay tribute to the statesmanship of the first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. He has made his views clear not only publicly, but as I know from conversations, privately to Mr. Robert Mugabe. If only Nelson Mandela were still in charge as President of the Republic of South Africa, that country might be playing an even more positive, helpful rule in seeking to bring about change in Zimbabwe.
Change must be brought about, because the problems facing Zimbabwe are absolutely desperate. In the three years that have passed since our last full debate on that country, the situation has deteriorated dramatically. As the Minister and other hon. Members know, I have personally pressed the Government for a debate on the tragedy in Zimbabwe for more than a year. It is now clear to all those who know anything about the country that unless external influences force Robert Mugabe to back down and accept change, he will end up destroying what is left of his country—which is not saying very much. Agriculture is operating at 20 per cent. capacity, and tourism, hotels and hospitality at about the same rate. Industry is operating at 50 per cent. capacity. Mining is still operating at about 80 per cent. capacity, but, sadly, is beginning to decline rapidly. Zimbabwe’s currency and stock market are absolutely worthless.
The appalling humanitarian, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate. With Operation Murambatsvina leaving 700,000 people destitute, more than 4 million people at risk of starvation and surviving on food aid, and political repression continuing apace, not least because of the farm clearances that have devastated food production from its once rich lands, we all know that the situation is desperate. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said, the operations relating to clearance and repression were carried out with ruthless efficiency regardless of financial or human consideration, and they have been stunningly successful. The Mugabe regime got away with both operations: in the case of the white farmers and their employees and staff, because they were easy targets; and in the case of the clearance of informal housing in Harare because, sadly, the United Nations system has no teeth or courage, and the question might have been posed, “Who cares about urban slum dwellers anyway?”
Political repression in Zimbabwe is rife, and there are reports that it is still on the rise. Amnesty International says that the security forces are increasing their attacks on human rights groups and student opposition leaders. The Harare Government have proposed the Interception of Communications Bill, which will allow the military, intelligence services, police and the office of the President to monitor e-mail correspondence, internet access and even telephone conversations. The departing United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, who has already been quoted two or three times, left no one in any doubt about the fragility of the situation. He said that the “economic madness” made it impossible for Mugabe to remain in power for very much longer. That was, to some extent, the message of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South.
The other threat to Mr. Mugabe would be a palace coup to replace him as ZANU-PF’s leader and Zimbabwe’s President. The Senate elections of 26 November 2005 were a cynical act of political patronage designed to consolidate ZANU-PF’s authoritarian grip on Zimbabwe. Regrettably, the main Opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, split into two factions in October 2005. However, I am not sure that that is necessarily important. I believe that come next year’s elections, the Opposition parties may well come together to oppose Mr. Mugabe. That was certainly suggested to me by the meetings with representatives of political parties, churches, youth and students that the hon. Member for Vauxhall and I attended.
The development of Africa as a priority for western democracies has grown radically in recent years, not least because of the efforts of our Prime Minister. However, western democracies must recognise that aid alone can achieve little and that African Governments are expected to deliver their side of the bargain through a commitment to democracy, good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The reality, however, is that Zimbabweans suffer from an unemployment rate of more than 70 per cent. Some people say that it is even higher—it could be 80 per cent. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) talked about the inflation rate, which is estimated to be anything between 1,500 per cent. and 4,000 per cent. Some people say that it is even higher than that.
Mr. Mugabe has said that his Government would ruthlessly take over companies that ignore their call to reduce prices. That has been made worse by the police, who use those new opportunities, in their regulatory and checking role, to indulge in mass looting. Mr. Mugabe said:
“We would take over all companies which continue to increase prices. If they want to be rough, we will show them that we are even rougher”.
The Zimbabwean Government have drafted soldiers and police to help enforce a ban on price increases, which they say are unjustified and meant to incite popular revolt against Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Would hon. Members believe that the Government would go to the lengths of setting up hotlines, encouraging people to report cases of alleged overpricing or hoarding of some basic goods? As a result, many important products have disappeared from shop shelves. In the past few days and weeks, we have seen more evidence that the ZANU-PF regime does not have a clue about how to manage the country and its economy. Having destroyed much of the productive sector, it is now embarking on a headlong rush to take over what is left and completely destroy whatever reputation Zimbabwe had as a destination for investment in any shape or form.
After months of speculation about their taking over of 51 per cent. of all mining companies, the Government have announced that they will take over 51 per cent. of all public companies, and any others that they think are attractive targets. That 51 per cent. figure means that control of management and all corporate policies are taken over by the Government, so that foreign and local investors who hold stocks in such companies will have no say over who manages them or what they do with their money.
It signifies the tragedy of that country and the problems facing its good people that prices went up 100 per cent. in April, and 200 per cent. in May. In June, they started doubling every week; this month, they will accelerate even further. Already, firms are closing their doors while they work out what to charge, and some are simply planning to close until the current situation is over. The US ambassador said last week that he would not be surprised if Zimbabwe hit 1.5 million per cent. inflation by the end of the year. Inflation is a symptom of a disease called bad macro-economic policy and such policies are exclusively in the hands of the state. The Reserve Bank and the Ministry of Finance are driving inflation in Zimbabwe. One cannot run a budget deficit of 60 per cent. of GDP and not expect the currency to collapse.
It is a matter of huge concern that the African Union, which has been sensibly referred to in the debate, the Southern African Development Community, and South Africa in particular, have failed to take a strong enough stand against the reprehensible Mugabe regime. I am concerned by reports from human rights organisations that migrants from Zimbabwe are vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse in the Republic of South Africa. Furthermore, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, more emigration of Zimbabweans to South Africa could cause considerable difficulties in that country. Perhaps it might even put the football World cup in that country in jeopardy.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary has considered early-day motion 1870, which I supported and which has been mentioned many times in the debate. It expresses deep concern that plans are under way to invite the Zimbabwean Government to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who will reply to the debate, listens to the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea about the EU regulation and decision. If Portugal means to invite Zimbabwe to attend the conference, it must get permission and exemption from the regulation. I hope that it does not because I believe that Mr. Mugabe’s presence—or even that of other leading representatives of Zimbabwe—at the summit will have a damaging effect.
Robert Mugabe, who appeared to start so well and was described as a freedom fighter and a liberator of his country, now systematically denies Zimbabweans rights and destroys their livelihoods, without the slightest regard for democratic principles and fundamental human rights. The argument that all African countries need to be invited to the summit in Lisbon to ensure its success is fallacious.
The UK Government must condemn, in the strongest terms, the Mugabe dictatorship for its relentless oppression of the Zimbabwean people and express their profound disappointment at the refusal of the important regional actors, such as the African Union, the South African Development Community and Southern Africa, to take a more robust stance against the Harare regime’s abuses, and at their failure to insist that the Zimbabwean Government should mend their ways and restore democracy and the rule of law. In my view, the international community has not exercised as much pressure and influence as it should. Consequently, Mr. Mugabe has been able to get away with the great suffering that he has brought to his people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is sitting in front of me, and he has taken a particular interest in the next subject that I want to mention. Mr. Mugabe’s Government’s abusive practices, such as eviction and the clearance of informal housing, which has disrupted access to health care, undermine Zimbabwe’s progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Inadequate social welfare policies have further heightened the vulnerability of AIDS patients. It is a matter of huge concern that, as my hon. Friend knows, Zimbabwe is currently experiencing one of the world’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemics, with more than 3,200 people a week dying from the disease.
Will the Government call on the Zimbabwean Government to take urgent action to improve access to antiretroviral treatment, which—I regret to say—only some 8 per cent. of those infected with the disease receive? The current water and power shortages have crippled the delivery of health services in most hospitals and clinics throughout the country. They cannot operate without clean water and power.
The EU rightly refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the recently created Senate in Zimbabwe because a mere 15 per cent. of Zimbabweans participated in that discredited election process, the result of which was, of course, guaranteed beforehand to favour ZANU-PF. The EU has also called on Robert Mugabe to comply with his promise to stand down.
In addition to the escalating AIDS epidemic, millions of women face problems in gaining access to sanitary products. Is my hon. Friend aware that one pack of such products costs 50 per cent. of a woman’s salary? There are desperate shortages. Imports are required, and should we not pay tribute to the Dignity! Period campaign, which is desperately trying to get help to the women who so obviously need it?
As ever, my hon. Friend draws a critical statistic to the House’s attention. I pay tribute to that organisation, but the case he describes is inevitable given the prevailing circumstances in Zimbabwe.
The EU has called on Robert Mugabe to comply with his promise to stand down, sooner rather than later—that would be the largest single step towards reviving Zimbabwe’s society, politics and the economy—and to commence positive transitional negotiations between ZANU-PF, the MDC parties and other opposition movements. I hope that we shall seek to bring all parties together in every way possible. We do not want to encourage civil war or internal conflict; we want to bring all the parties together. I am aware from my contacts in the country that a number of members of ZANU-PF know that Mr. Mugabe’s days are numbered and would like to get together with the other political parties and ensure a peaceful change.
Regrettably, the EU’s targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe and certain individuals in the country have failed to have the desired impact on those directly responsible for Zimbabwe’s impoverishment and the hardships endured by its people. The Government should call on the European Council to ensure that all member states rigorously apply the existing restrictive measures, including the travel ban, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea highlighted, and the arms embargo. They should err on the side of exclusion rather than weak-willed permissiveness.
The Government should call on the Council to expand the scope of sanctions and further enlarge the list of individuals, which I understand currently stands at 120, so that it encompasses many more Zimbabwean Ministers, deputies and governors, executives, including the governor of the Reserve Bank, ZANU-PF members, supporters and workers and their family members, as well as business men and other prominent individuals associated with the party.
The international community has a duty to call on China, in particular, and other countries that continue to supply weaponry and other support to the Mugabe regime to desist and join the international community in its efforts to bring about change for the betterment of the people of Zimbabwe. I can only deplore the fact that at the same time as the United Nations is appealing for $257 million in humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe, Mr. Robert Mugabe and his Government are completing the procurement of 12 K-8 military aircraft from China, at a cost of $240 million. The Zimbabwean army has announced the purchase of 127 vehicles for senior officers, with another 194 to be purchased over the coming months. The Zimbabwean Government can buy weaponry, vehicles and aircraft, but they cannot provide food, power and electricity for their people.
I have visited Zimbabwe many times. They are a lovely and wonderful people, be they Mashona or Matabele. I believe that they deserve better from the civilised world than they are getting.
I shall try to speak in the next debate on Zimbabwe, which the Minister promised would take place in the autumn, but my final words in this debate will be to ask whether all parties in this place, and all civilised countries, could work together to produce an exit package for Mr. Robert Mugabe, so that we can save the people of that country from further suffering. Yes, a lot of people would like to see him hanging from the nearest lamp post, but I am not interested in that. I am interested in getting him away from Zimbabwe so that we can restore stability, progress and a sound economy, and bring an end to the suffering of the wonderful people of that country.
One always hesitates before rising to follow an excellent speech by a senior colleague such as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). I hope that he will not mind my pointing out that when he was first experiencing what was then Rhodesia, I was still in short trousers. I hope, too, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) will not take umbrage if I point out that when he was teaching there, I was not even born. I also hope that if I serve the House for anything like as long as they have done, young Members of Parliament coming into the House will have a little more respect for their elders.
As much as a 35-year-old with two years’ experience of the House can be said to have a long-standing interest in a subject, I do have such an interest in Zimbabwe. I went there in my early 20s as part of my work for the British bank, Barclays, in a number of southern African countries. That interest has been renewed by my representing Rochford and Southend, East, which has a Zimbabwean community of more than 250, as it was an asylum distribution centre. I am sure that hon. Members will not mind if I commend to them the work of Washington Ali, who represents the Zimbabwean community here and provides me with a constant feed of information on the country, on which I will draw heavily in this speech. I shall also draw heavily on the work of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, which is so ably chaired by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). Its meetings are truly invaluable.
Unlike some Members, I am optimistic about Zimbabwe. I find Zimbabweans to be among the most optimistic, entrepreneurial, go-getting individuals in the region, or even the world. There is a bright future for Zimbabwe; it is a post-Mugabe future. I have not visited Harare for more than 10 years, but I look forward to receiving an invite from a democratically elected Government of Zimbabwe in the near future.
In order for Zimbabwe to have a new democratic Government, however, Mugabe has to go. I would love to see him hanging from a lamppost, but that is not the way in which we want to move forward. I want to see him brought to justice for what he has done in Matabeleland and in his entire country. That is not necessarily the most important issue, however. Washington Ali and other Zimbabweans tell me that they want justice, but not at the price of one more day of a failed state. If providing Mugabe with a soft landing results in peace, democracy, stability and a strong economic foundation for Zimbabwe being achieved earlier, we must go for that.
Barclays bank, for which I worked, is still in Zimbabwe. It has been there since 1912 and employs more than 1,000 people. I congratulate it and the many South African companies that are sticking with their local communities, local shareholders and local employees in these hard times. Those companies will be instrumental in bringing forward the changes that will be needed for the new Zimbabwe.
Politics is only part of the solution. As politicians, we tend to focus on it a bit more than we focus on the economics. As an ex-banker, however, I would like to focus a bit more on the economics. We have heard about the inflation in Zimbabwe. Speaking to business men there, I understand that the rate is about 8,000 per cent. It is impossible to understand such figures. Washington Ali tells a story of someone who filled up their car with fuel, and two and a half weeks later, having managed to find another filling station that still had fuel, found that it now cost three times as much.
Operation Slash Prices is further damaging the economy. I have with me an e-mail from a business man in Bulawayo, who had
“just come back from witnessing an operation by the so-called Task Force at Makro”—
a large South African company that operates throughout southern Africa. The e-mail continues:
“The Task Force arrived mid morning and on a totally arbitrary basis, it ordered them to halve the prices of TVs, Fridges, Deep Freezers”
and a number of other products, including a “30 tonne load” of soap. It was a bizarre scene. Effectively, these shops were being looted. They were forced to sell goods on a preferential basis to supporters of ZANU-PF, who would be allowed in to buy those goods. Those shops are not going to restock. Speaking to employees, this business man said that there was concern that many jobs had effectively disappeared. Those are not the actions of a rational man, and they are not actions that will help save Zimbabwe.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is no longer in his place. I had a conversation with him a few days ago in which he made some of the same points. He feared that we were rehearsing the same arguments time and again. However, I believe that things are changing on a daily basis. Even in last weekend’s press, there was some positive news about new thinking and new ideas coming out of southern Africa.
The idea of bringing Zimbabwe into the rand common monetary area is particularly important. It has already worked in Swaziland with the emalangeni, in Namibia with the dollar, in Lesotho with the loti—and it has even worked in Botswana, where although there is not an exact pegging to that economy, there is an unofficial relationship between the two and a rate of approximately 70 per cent. Bringing Zimbabwe into that zone will enforce a much greater degree of macro-economic stability. In reality, most people do not use Zim dollars; they use US dollars, South African rand, and to a lesser degree, pounds sterling. If Mugabe goes and there is regime change, that is something very immediate that can happen. However, it will not be a matter of SADC support alone. It will take international support and international money to achieve. The Government need to be prepared for those changes and agree informally with SADC the level of support that they will provide when called upon.
I may be reading too much into what the Minister said. She chose her words carefully when she said that no formal discussion was going on with SADC about the rand common monetary area. The issue was widely trailed in South African newspapers, and discussions with other countries were mentioned. I very much hope that the British Government are involved in some informal discussions. I was pleased to hear the governor of the central bank of South Africa say that there was a long way to go before bringing Zimbabwe into the rand-dollar area. In saying that, he was nevertheless recognising that we have started to make some progress towards a potential economic solution for Zimbabwe.
That will be good for Zimbabwe not only economically, but politically. One of the key ways in which Mugabe supports his regime is through foreign exchange deals with the central bank at a preferential rate; he and his ZANU-PF Ministers and members then sell that hard currency on the open parallel market, making vast profits. As well as providing economic stability, this action will help to remove one of the levers of Mugabe’s oppression and corruption.
I would like further to reinforce the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) about the governor of the central bank in Zimbabwe. There is no way that that gentleman will play any part in any economic future for Zimbabwe. We know that he is not welcome in the UK. I recognise that we need to work through the EU if at all possible. However, I would be much happier if, in the event that a travel ban cannot be obtained through the EU, the UK had the courage of its convictions and imposed a travel ban in any case.
It is important to prepare for change. When Mugabe goes, things will not get better on day one. Electricity is still likely to go out and foodstuffs will not immediately flow into the country—so, very quickly, we could find that the new regime rather than Mugabe is blamed for those failures. We need to provide support to SADC to plan for that change, and to ensure that food, fuel and electricity are supplied. We need to assist a new Zimbabwe to rebuild a civil society, because, piece by piece, Mugabe has broken down all the institutions of civil society, so that he has not simply the office of President, but the only power that there is.
We need to send the right message, which means working with the African Union, the European Union, the South African Development Community, Thabo Mbeki, and Festus Mogae in Botswana. I was deeply disappointed by the lack of strength in the Minister’s earlier comments about the summit in Portugal. I urge other Members to sign early-day motion 1870, calling for Mugabe not to be invited. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea mentioned an article in The Sunday Times. It is not just civil servants who are briefing, because an unnamed Minister is quoted as saying:
“You can be sure Mugabe will get himself photographed shaking Gordon’s hand. There’s no way that’s going to happen…If it means the meeting cannot go ahead, so be it. It’s already been delayed for years.”
I hope that in summing up, the Minister will make it clear that that position has not been diluted since the weekend press report, as that would be a step backwards.
I fully support the EU travel ban being extended to family members. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, sporting relationships are critical. The Government should be sending a much tougher message, not only on cricket but on the World cup in South Africa in 2010, making it clear that free nations are not prepared to play practice games in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Everyone would want to congratulate Edinburgh university on revoking Mugabe’s honorary degree. Just before the changeover in government, I wrote to a previous Foreign Office Minister to inquire about Mugabe’s honorary knighthood, granted in 1994. I was unclear whether the Government are able or willing to revoke that knighthood.
My hon. Friend indicates from a sedentary position that the Government can revoke the knighthood. In that case, I am sure that Members of the House who have spoken in the debate, who know a lot about Zimbabwe, will call on the Government to do that with great haste.
Another window of opportunity is coming up with the Kampala Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. It is essential that Zimbabwe be on the agenda. The President of Zimbabwe might have taken his country out of the Commonwealth, but the people of Zimbabwe remain in the Commonwealth. We should use the opportunity of Kampala to advance their cause and make it clear to other African leaders who are critical in private that they need to be critical in public, to make the change that is sorely needed.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who has added new dimensions to the debate and is a respected member of the all-party group. It is also a great pleasure to follow many right hon. and hon. Members who have shown the passion that exists in the House on this issue.
As a relatively new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had a very difficult job in facing Members who have great knowledge and understanding of the issue. I did not attack her, because she made the best of that job. If I were her, however, I would have a serious word with my officials when I got back to King Charles street. They did not predict the buttons that the House wanted pressed today, and did not equip her properly to enter the debate.
I shall not go through many of the issues that have been raised in the debate. I find it hard to keep an even tone, because it is difficult for me, as it is for many people who know and love Zimbabwe, to find the adjectives and superlatives to describe what has happened there and those responsible for it.
I believe that, while cruelty and terror are a daily feature of what purports to be government in Zimbabwe, a vicarious cruelty is being visited on the people of Zimbabwe by those in state houses and presidential residences across Africa, whose refusal even to recognise the almost genocidal brutality of the Mugabe regime is ever present. Why do they do this? It is hard to have the optimism that some people have shown in the House today for the future of Africa when that ambivalence at best or connivance at worst exists in some of the African Governments. It is hard to believe that Africa can really move on to where we, the previous Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister desire it to move—a more benevolent and economically successful world—when such attitudes persist.
Like ripples in a pond, this vicarious cruelty extends beyond the continent of Africa. It extends into the chancelleries of Europe. Countries waive or talk about waiving entry bans on Mugabe and a coterie of his supporters to allow this pariah to strut on the world stage. That has been much discussed today. It is hard to overestimate the value that Mugabe puts on being able to strut that stage. It is important that the Minister understands that and comments on it when he replies.
Let me set in context my knowledge and understanding of Zimbabwe. I, like many hon. Members, have travelled widely in that part of Africa. My first visit to Zimbabwe was during what one could call its halcyon days. I travelled in my 20s with a liberal naivety; I actually believed that it could work. I saw wonderful work being done by people who had been implacable enemies only a year or two before. There was a sense of optimism among white farmers, people who had been in the liberation struggle and people who had been stuck in the middle, who were the majority.
I worked with people from this country. The late Black Rod, Sir Edward Jones, who tragically died a few weeks ago—I mourn his death—set up the British military advisory team and worked with the Zimbabwean army to make it into a responsible organisation. At that time, there were rumblings about what was going on in Matabeleland. I saw lorry loads of North Korean troops entering the country and I should have seen then that things were going to go wrong—as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has just described, they certainly did.
I could describe many more of my experiences in Zimbabwe, but one of the most telling was my visit during the parliamentary elections in 2000 with my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who was then the shadow Foreign Secretary. We worked our way around the country trying to keep ahead of the Central Intelligence Organisation. We encountered Movement for Democratic Change candidates coming out of the darkness to meet with us. I found the experience intensely moving. We all come across courage in our lives and in our constituencies, but more often than not it is displayed as a result of an incident, illness, action or whatever. Here was premeditated courage. These were people who had made a decision to stand for Parliament, to make a stand or to be active politically, knowing that it would put their and their family’s lives in danger. That was a tremendous thing to experience. It is wonderful that so many people in Zimbabwe are prepared still to do that. I have worked with the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust here in London and been to Washington to see the wonderful work there to bring pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe.
As has been said in the debate, nothing will change while Mugabe remains in power. Only his removal will stop Zimbabwe from collapsing into a fully fledged failed state. This is where I differ slightly from the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who seemed to adopt a rather more laissez-faire approach. He seemed to say that change was happening, change would come, that we could not influence it from here and that we should more or less let it happen. I may be misrepresenting him; if so, I apologise. I believe that there is an urgent need for more action because Mugabe and the coterie of thugs around him are totally focused on one date; 2008, the year of the presidential elections. He will do all he can to win those elections.
There are three pinch-points on the Mugabe regime. First, there is the international community: the UK, the Commonwealth, the EU, the G8 and the UN. Much has already been said about their influence and what they can do. Then there are African leaders, particularly those of SADC countries. I have already touched on that. But the one on which I will dwell is the people of Zimbabwe, who provide the best possible opportunity to bring about the change we all want.
I achieved a certain notoriety last week—it is a badge I wear with honour—by being attacked in the Zimbabwe Herald about a comment I had made about wanting the people of Zimbabwe to rise up and remove Mugabe. I spoke about wanting to be there for the Ceausescu moment; we remember Ceausescu making a speech to what he thought was an adoring crowd who suddenly turned on him, at which point his face went chalk-white with fear. We know what happened after that.
I am not saying that I want the people of Zimbabwe to rise up in a bloody coup, because they have suffered enough. I want this to be brought about quietly and as expeditiously as possible. However, the people who will pull the plug on this despot are those who are closest to him. I will call them the coterie. Some refer to them as the big men—the likes of Emerson Mnangagwa, Mujuru and others. They can be made to feel the chill wind of their wealth and position threatened by the intransigence and actions of Mugabe.
Many of these people and their families are still able to travel. Many are able to use the shopping malls of the west to spend their ill-gotten gains. Most will have family members studying in Europe, particularly in the UK, and in the United States, or are using these countries for health care—all at a time when education and health care are denied to the people whom these characters have impoverished.
Some time ago I raised with the current Lord Chancellor the possibility of extending the travel ban and sending back people who are studying at our universities because they are the children, cousins or brothers of those people. I cannot remember his exact works, but he said that one cannot visit the sins of the fathers upon the sons. I think we can and the time has come when we must. It is only by putting that sort of pressure on the regime can we make these people go back, at least to witness, if not experience, the misery that is going on in their country, which is being brought about by those who have financed their trips to places such as this country.
Wealth and status is all to the coterie, so it is entirely legitimate for us to seek to remove the benefits of education and health care in this country from these people in whatever form they are taking. I also want the business men—whether in South Africa, the UK, Europe or the United States—who are complicit in propping up the lifestyles of these individuals and the regime itself to be exposed.
Robert Mugabe controls everything: security, the judiciary, the media. We have heard how he uses food as a weapon of political repression. He controls the purse strings. All of his efforts, and those of the people around him, are working towards winning the 2008 election. The only way he can do that is through the combined uses of electoral fraud, terror and, importantly, patronage. Mugabe has handed out farms, as we all know, to senior officials. Recently he has handed out tractors to officials. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield about the great number of cars that have recently appeared in Harare; they had been handed out to senior security officials. How and where did the regime procure those cars and tractors? Those who did such deals with it are part of the problem. That might be a national issue; China might be complicit in such deals—I do not know whether that is the case. If business men from Britain or any other country are brokering such deals, they must be exposed and the source of patronage must dry up.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South in that I believe that urgent action is necessary as playground economics is being practised—the economy is imploding, there is price-cutting by force, and currency is being printed as if it is confetti. That will bring misery upon misery to the Zimbabwean people, and we must act.
Sadly, many Church figures in Zimbabwe have been bought off. Does my hon. Friend agree that when the next history of Zimbabwe is written—hopefully after the collapse of the current bestial regime—one of the great heroes that will feature in it will be Archbishop Pius Ncube?
I absolutely agree. During my entire life, I will probably meet only four or five people like Pius Ncube. He is a truly humble man who has been subjected to the most appalling attacks—we have heard of the latest attack by the regime—and he remains courageous and a model for us all. He has been recognised in some quarters, but I hope that he will be recognised internationally for his extraordinary work. As we applaud him, we must also deplore those who hold prominent Church positions who have played the tune of Mugabe’s regime for too long. They deserve as much excoriation as Pius Ncube deserves praise.
Let me return to the issue of a sporting ban. I was in South Africa in the 1980s. Before I went there, I did not believe that a sporting ban was a particularly effective tool, but when I was there I saw that it was. Mention has been made of banning Zimbabwe from the Olympics and the 2010 World cup. I applaud the Australian Government for simply saying “No”, and our Government can do the same. As I said to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), when someone wears a national shirt they are part of the political world. We cannot put that genie back in the bottle. It is important that there is cross-Government understanding: the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, or whichever Department makes decisions on who plays in sporting tournaments throughout the world, must recognise that allowing a Zimbabwean team to visit our country or, even worse, us to play cricket or any other sport in Zimbabwe, would amount to an enormous endorsement of the regime, and that that would certainly be how it would be received in that country.
What we need is good old-fashioned diplomacy. We have given £2.5 billion in bilateral aid to SADC countries. Their economies are being brought down by the actions of the Zimbabwe regime; nearby countries are beginning to feel the impact of what is happening in Zimbabwe. Our taxpayers’ hard-earned money is being wasted because those countries will not stand up to Mugabe. I am not saying that aid should be cut; on the contrary, I want aid to be increased, especially to countries in the SADC region. However, we must in return have more leverage, and we should use it to try to put some backbone into some of their leaders.
Like many Members, I am hugely disappointed by much of Thabo Mbeki’s record, such as his attitude to HIV and the fact that he has allowed crime to soar. History will judge harshly his tenure as leader of Africa’s strongest country, and the litany of failure will certainly include somewhere very near the beginning of the word “Zimbabwe”.
I hope that this country can take a lead from countries such as Australia, which has taken robust action against the Government of Zimbabwe. We should also applaud people such as Christopher Dell, the courageous US diplomat, and our high commissioner and the whole team in Harare, who do a fantastic job. Christopher Dell’s announcement that ZANU-PF officials’ family members who were being educated in the US would be removed was a big step forward, and one that we should follow.
We can also take a lead in many other ways. The Government like to sound new and fresh, and we have announcements to that effect every day. This issue is an opportunity to be fresh and new. We can end the tiptoeing around the subject and the sense of post-colonial guilt syndrome, which my generation feel is in the past and should not be allowed to affect the issue today. The Prime Minister could make a big difference by announcing that he is not going to Lisbon if Robert Mugabe is going, and that we will have a robust and forthright policy on Zimbabwe in the future.
I am delighted to wind up in this important debate. I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that it is a pity that the debate was not postponed. It is an important debate: we do not get many Foreign Office debates, and this afternoon would have been considerably enhanced by the presence of the Foreign Secretary.
I have great admiration for the Minister who opened the debate, but she was cast adrift today without an adequate compass or any warning of the dangers that were likely to beset her. It is a pity that she was not able to give the House some of the realistic answers that it expected today. I will come to some of those issues in a moment.
We had some knowledgeable speeches today from people who have been involved in Zimbabwe for a long time, notably my right hon. and learned Friend, who is a former Foreign Secretary; the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), former Minister for Africa; and the chairman and vice-chairman of the all-party Zimbabwe group, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). They have had long experience of the issue and have bravely stood up for the people of Zimbabwe. The House should be grateful to them for sharing their knowledge of the issue today.
We have also been fortunate enough to hear from two new Members of the House, my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) and for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), whose contributions were eye-opening. I shall come to some of the issues raised in a minute.
I shall not read out a litany of things that are going wrong in Zimbabwe, as many others have done that. Suffice it to say that the situation in that country has reached a very low ebb. If the UN World Food Programme is to be believed, the current year’s bad harvest will lead to up to a quarter of the population requiring food aid next year. Already up to a quarter of the population may have fled, at least 2 million of them to South Africa. The intellectual brain drain will be one of the big problems facing Zimbabwe in the future.
I shall pick out some of the salient points of the excellent speeches we have heard today. I welcome the announcement by the Minister this afternoon when she confirmed Baroness Vadera’s announcement in the House of Lords yesterday that an additional £50 million of aid was to be given towards food shortage alleviation and agricultural infrastructure building, and £3.3 million for civil society building. That is very important. If there is any way in which we can help to build civil society in all its aspects, that is to be greatly welcomed.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall that the situation needs internationalising. Anybody who has any influence to bear should be brought in. Of course, ultimately—as I said in a question to the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) on 26 March—it must be an African solution for an African problem, but that does not mean to say that other international players and individual countries cannot add their expertise and help to bring about a solution.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall was also entirely right to say that we should look to the UN to implement its responsibility to protect. If the international community cannot find mechanisms to enable it to intervene more quickly in places such as Zimbabwe or Sudan’s Darfur province, where the suffering and human rights violations are so bad, there is something wrong.
I also agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who said that the problem may well get worse before it gets better. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southern, East referred to Operation Slash Prices, which follows numerous other difficulties in Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said that it amounts almost to the confiscation of businesses, when the Government take a 51 per cent. share yet still require them to sell goods in the shops below the costs of production. The effect has been that supplies of the essentials of life—wheat, flour, bread and maize—are drying up fast.
I want to dwell on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. What comes next? It is almost inevitable that Zimbabwe will collapse in the relatively near future, although it is difficult for us to envisage the form that that will take. The best thing might be that Robert Mugabe will announce that is he going to retire and that someone else will take over. That is unlikely, but it would also be an acceptable solution if the presidential elections due to take place in March next are free and fair and another person is voted in. However, further action by the people of Zimbabwe might be presaged if they are not free and fair, and that would leave a difficult situation that we would have to resolve.
The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), will respond to the debate, and he will have to answer the many penetrating questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson). I hope that he will also pay some attention to the thinking that the international community has devoted to a post-Mugabe regime. That is critically important.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South raised a number of issues worth considering. One thing that is going wrong is Mugabe’s violation of the rule of law, which has all sorts of guises. For example, a change in the law means that Mugabe can manipulate Parliament to elect a president if anything happens to him. In addition, rules have been introduced that restrict people’s ability to assemble and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said, new laws allow all sorts of private communications to be monitored.
We need to make sure that the rule of law operates properly in Zimbabwe. We know, for example, that solicitors representing people in jail are themselves being jailed. The rule of law is being brought rapidly into disrepute, and that is one of the first problems that will have to be dealt with.
As I have noted already, Zimbabwe will need a new constitution, and a new and independent electoral commission. I also hope that the electoral register will be properly verified before next year’s presidential elections, as it would be entirely unacceptable if we were to find that it had been gerrymandered, with the result that members of one party only were encouraged to vote. In that connection, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will say whether he has given thought to getting the international community to bring pressure to bear so that the 3 million or so Zimbabweans in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere are allowed to vote.
The security and financial sectors will also need to be reformed. Increasingly, members of the police and armed forces are not being paid, and that is because the Zimbabwean Government are simply running out of money. Officially, inflation is running at 4,000 per cent., but unofficial figures put it very much higher.
We heard a lot in the debate about the governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, but the bank has no foreign reserves apart from what it gets when it seizes the hard currency gained after a company manages to complete some trade. It is essential that we have economic reform, a currency reserve fund, a contingency fund and a proper civil service that is able to administer money so that proper civil servants, members of the armed forces and the police are paid, and can do their jobs.
There will need to be emergency food aid. That is already under way. Some of my colleagues—this happened in a debate yesterday—criticise us for giving food aid because they say that it props up the Government of Zimbabwe. I say that we have to find a way of giving the starving people of Zimbabwe food aid without propping up the Government of Zimbabwe. Not to give them food aid would be unacceptable. We will need to find ways of making sure that everybody has enough food, and of ensuring that people have access to a proper health service and a proper education service, and are housed. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield about Operation Murambatsvina—the so-called Clear the Filth operation—that meant that 700,000 people were driven out of their houses in Zimbabwe. When the international community tried to provide tents for them because they were homeless, the tents were seized by the armed forces. That is the extent of Robert Mugabe’s regime.
We will need to find a solution not only to the internally displaced people I have just referred to, and many others, but to the refugees, who are mostly, but not exclusively, in South Africa. The sad fact about Zimbabwe at the moment, and perhaps one of the factors that will be quickest in bringing about collapse, is that the most able people are leaving the country. They are the very people—the brightest, the most intellectual people—who need to be retained in the country to run a realistic future.
Somehow, we will also need to come up with a solution to the land redistribution problem—not that that need be a problem in itself, but what needs to happen fairly rapidly is that somehow the farms need to be put back into proper production so that Zimbabwe can at last begin to feed itself and, even more importantly, in the medium term, not only feed itself, but start exporting food. That is one of the main parts of its economy and would mean that it could begin to earn hard currency again.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South referred to something very interesting that I do not think has been addressed before: truth and reconciliation. Zimbabwe will need to have a truth and reconciliation commission similar to the one that we had under the auspices of the archbishop in South Africa. That will mean that those who have not committed gross crimes against humanity can be brought back into the fold and pardoned—because we will desperately need to work with them. The international community and the people of Zimbabwe will need to work with people we would not necessarily want to talk to. A truth and reconciliation commission would be one way of doing that.
There will need to be a considerable package of assistance. I hope that the Minister who is summing up tonight can tell us not only what thinking there has been on how the country can be rebuilt, but who is going to provide that monetary assistance. There needs to be a mechanism, because when the collapse comes, it might come quite quickly. We need to be prepared. We must not be left floundering around for weeks or months trying to come up with a package. The work needs to be done now.
I want to turn to the elections next year. Colleagues have mentioned this issue. There are some encouraging signs that the Opposition party, the MDC, is beginning to come together. I have good reason to believe that, in those presidential elections, Morgan Tsvangirai will be the only candidate. Having one Opposition candidate for the president and one in each electoral district will provide a much more powerful opposition and it will be much less confusing for the people of Zimbabwe. I hope that that happens.
We need to look at international re-engagement and at how the whole effort involving the South Africans and SADC is going to work. One of the most important suggestions that has come out of the Thabo Mbeki mediation process was that we should have a proper UN rapporteur to give added weight and emphasis to the situation. I hope that that can come about. At the same time, we need to send proper signals from the international community to the Mugabe regime.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, a former Foreign Secretary, is exactly right to say that if the European Union aspires to have a common foreign policy that means anything at all, it needs a common foreign policy on Zimbabwe. That means that we must adopt a common position on who is subject to the travel ban and on the sanctions and assets freezes that are to be applied. While I am on that subject, might add that the assets freeze is pretty weak in this country. I understand that it covers only about 400 bank accounts containing £350,000. Surely the Government could do more in that respect.
We need to ensure that Zimbabwe features on the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Although Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth, it was formerly a member and many of its neighbours are members. The Commonwealth could be better used, so the matter should be on the CHOGM agenda.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury that we need to send out the right signals about sporting events. If a national team is to play in Zimbabwe, it is a national responsibility to give those teams a steer. It is no good saying that it is up to the UK cricketing body to make a decision, especially if it is going to lose out financially. It is up to the Government to say quite clearly, “You should not be going to Zimbabwe. If you lose out financially, we will compensate you.” The Government’s position is anomalous. There was a sporting ban on South Africa, so why should there not be a ban on Zimbabwe, given the similarly dreadful situation there?
We have heard many interesting speeches made by hon. Members with experience. Suffice it to say that the situation is Zimbabwe is quite unacceptable. Zimbabwe is reckoned by some to be the fourth most likely nation in the world to fail. I agree that there will be a form of collapse in Zimbabwe in the near future. I just hope that, when it comes, the Government and the international community will be a little better prepared for it than the Government were for today’s debate.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in responding to this robust debate on the future of Zimbabwe. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), set out the Government’s profound concern about the situation in Zimbabwe and the action that we have consistently taken to highlight our concerns and work for a better future for the people of Zimbabwe.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) led for the official Opposition. He echoed the Government’s profound concern and asked a series of questions about our policy. I will come to those questions in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) followed the hon. Gentleman. For many years, she has consistently focused attention, both inside and outside the House, on the plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I acknowledge and pay tribute to her long-standing interest in the issue.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), who led for the Liberal Democrats, has considerable development expertise due to his work on the International Development Committee. He, too, asked a series of questions, and I shall address them during my speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) brought their considerable experience of service in the Foreign Office to the debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised a specific point that was echoed by Conservative Members, especially, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall: attendance at the EU-AU summit. I will address that issue shortly.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has shown a consistent interest in Zimbabwe throughout his time in the House. He highlighted the fact that he made his first visit to Zimbabwe in 1979. I cannot hope to compete with his interest in Zimbabwe or his number of visits to that country over such a long time. However, I remember the sense of optimism that he described about the future of Zimbabwe that followed the Lancaster House agreement. I share the profound frustration and disappointment felt about the fact that that optimism has not resulted in the progress that all Members wanted for Zimbabwe. He was right to say that aid alone cannot solve Zimbabwe’s problems. Aid has a place in helping to address those problems, but without improvements to governance, we cannot tackle the terrible plight of the Zimbabwean people.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield was followed by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who highlighted the views of the one quarter of Zimbabweans who have left the country because of the terrible economic and political situation there, some of whom now live in his constituency. He was followed by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), who highlighted the considerable courage of many people who are not members of Robert Mugabe’s circle, including those in the Church, in civil society, and in political parties other than ZANU-PF. Despite considerable repression, they have continued to highlight the plight of Zimbabwe’s people. I join him, as I am sure the whole House does, in paying tribute to their courage.
Lastly, the hon. Member for Cotswold spoke. He joined other Members in describing the appalling governance that is at the root of the terrible suffering of the Zimbabwean people. There are disastrous economic policies on the one hand and significant appalling human rights abuses on the other. The hon. Member for Macclesfield and others referred to the fact that as the country has continued towards collapse, and as the leadership of Zimbabwe fears for its future, new acts of repression and intimidation, such as arbitrary arrest, beatings and torture, have been carried out. Nobody in Zimbabwean society has escaped that trauma. Journalists, business men, lawyers and trade unionists have all been victims, as hon. Members have described. I join the House in its collective condemnation of the terrible record of Robert Mugabe’s Government, who are responsible for the situation in Zimbabwe.
In the very short time that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been in post, he has already spoken to President Mbeki about the Southern African Development Community initiative, and has continued to highlight the British Government’s concern about the situation in Zimbabwe. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to his opposite number in South Africa, and both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have had a series of discussions with a range of Governments, both within the European Union—they have spoken to their German, French and Portuguese opposite numbers—and within the SADC region. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will raise the British Government’s profound concerns about the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels next week. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that we have taken the lead in keeping Zimbabwe on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council, and we continue to ensure that the Security Council remains focused on the issue.
I shall try to answer the questions that hon. Members asked. Let me start with some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk. He rightly highlighted Robert Mugabe’s continuing attempt to present the dreadful situation in Zimbabwe as a continuation of the anti-colonial struggle, and rightly said that it is nothing of the sort. Contrary to the Zimbabwean Government’s propaganda, we have not imposed economic sanctions on the country and its people. Indeed, we have made our support for the people of Zimbabwe clear through the substantial humanitarian assistance that we continue to provide to ameliorate the dreadful impact of failed economic policies.
Our approach to Zimbabwe has been to try to support, and not punish, Zimbabwe’s people. We provide direct assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe. Our aid is helping to form part of a response to the Zimbabwean food crisis. This year, more than half the population is likely to need food aid, as Conservative Members and others have said. We will continue to work with the World Food Programme, which, as the hon. Member for Cotswold said, has just issued a further appeal for the coming months, which we are considering, and to which we will respond shortly. The international community has so far managed to keep malnutrition below emergency levels. I make no higher claim for the humanitarian support that we have been able to provide.
Through our protracted relief programme, we have also reached some 2 million people in the most drought-prone areas of Zimbabwe with seeds, tools, livestock and fertiliser to help them build basic rural livelihoods. The programme has also helped to provide care for the most chronically ill in their homes. We have, for example, supplied some 600,000 people with safe drinking water. As was mentioned, my noble Friend Baroness Vadera announced yesterday that we have just committed some £50 million for a second five-year period for the programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall expressed concern about the politicisation of food aid in Zimbabwe. She is right to highlight the problem, which we strongly condemn. It is the Government of Zimbabwe who have politicised food aid. The food that they have purchased is distributed predominantly to their supporters. Donor-funded aid—aid provided as a result of British money—is channelled through non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, and there is rigorous monitoring to ensure that it goes to people who need it, not to those who Robert Mugabe’s Government would like to receive it.
I accept the premise of my hon. Friend’s remarks. However, although the NGOs may take responsibility up to a point, there is no doubt that out in the rural areas, way beyond the cameras, the journalists and the media, food aid, which has been paid for by my constituents, is being distributed on a political basis according to whether or not people are supporters of ZANU-PF.
As I have said to my hon. Friend, there is no question but that the politicisation of food aid is taking place. Given the monitoring that we ensure takes place and for which others, including those who work for the World Food Programme, take responsibility, the food aid that is distributed by donors goes to the intended beneficiaries. There is no doubt that the food that is purchased by the Government of Zimbabwe goes, sadly, not necessarily to those who need it, but overwhelmingly to the supporters of that Government.
I take my hon. Friend’s point in this respect: we cannot afford to relax about the way in which food aid is distributed. We need to continue to monitor to ensure that food aid is consistently distributed to those who should benefit from it. If my hon. Friend or other hon. Members have evidence of any abuse of donor-funded aid, we want to hear about it immediately.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk asked about forced displacement and what the UK Government are doing to support victims of forced displacement. We have provided the International Organisation for Migration with some £5 million for food, shelter, blankets and other lifesaving equipment, to try to ameliorate the impact of forced displacement. We provide humanitarian assistance more generally too to those who have been deported, and we try to offer some protection from abuse to those terribly vulnerable groups who are suffering as a result of forced displacement—unaccompanied children, for example
The hon. Gentleman asked about the safety of British nationals in Zimbabwe. He knows, as do other hon. Members, that we take extremely seriously our duty of care for British nationals across the whole of Zimbabwe. There is a full consular service in Harare and we are making efforts to ensure that all British nationals, including those who are elderly and vulnerable—another point that was made—are aware of the assistance that we can provide through the embassy, and that which is available from other relevant welfare organisations. He also asked whether there are consular contingency plans. Of course, we do have such plans, as we do for all countries should a situation change. I am sure that he will understand if I do not go into more detail at this time.
Let me come to the point raised by all Conservative Members and two of my hon. Friends—the concern about the EU-Africa summit that will, I hope, take place in Lisbon later this year. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea alluded to the huge governance challenges that there are in Africa. Others referred to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the lack of water, and the fact that too many of Africa’s children do not have access to primary school education. Those are issues that the EU should discuss with African Governments, and many bilateral discussions are indeed taking place, but they should also take place at a regional—EU-Africa—level. The last thing that we would want to happen is for those concerns about the broader needs of African nations to be overshadowed by the attendance of Robert Mugabe.
I am aware of the report in The Sunday Times that the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea mentioned. He will perhaps understand why I am not going to speculate on how that report appeared. However, I can re-emphasise that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley, said in her opening remarks, no invitations to the EU-Africa summit have been issued. We are some way away from the point at which that might happen, and the agenda is not yet settled. The hon. Member for Cotswold pointed out that Robert Mugabe did not attend the summit in France, which is a helpful precedent. I assure hon. Members who have strongly articulated their concerns that there will be plenty of opportunities for the House to consider the question of invitations, as well as the agenda.
With great respect, the Government need to be clear on the negotiating stance that they are going to take with regard to Robert Mugabe’s attendance at the summit. Will the Minister give a clear answer on that matter, if not now, by way of written answer before the House goes into recess, which means that there will not be much chance to discuss it?
As I said, I recognise and understand the profound concern about what might and might not happen in relation to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon. Again, I say gently to the House that we are not at the point where invitations have been issued, and there will be many opportunities to debate what will or will not happen. I will of course bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and others, the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House.
Several hon. Members referred to the governor of the Reserve Bank. Let me make it clear that I believe that he should be on the EU’s targeted measures list. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, he has not sought, thus far, to come to the UK, and he would not be welcome if he did.
Hon. Members asked what further steps we are taking to investigate and seize the assets of those on the visa ban list. More than 130 individuals are on that list, although it was suggested that there are only 120. We are looking into the activities of a whole series of businesses to see whether they are in any way, accidentally or deliberately, helping members of the ZANU-PF elite to get round the ban on assets. Alongside the investigations that are already under way, we are always keen to receive any information that hon. Members might have to help us to seize the assets of those on the list.
It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.