Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
My voice is fairly croaky, so I apologise if I have to give up halfway through.
It seems to be an opportune moment to be considering Zimbabwe. The purpose of the debate is to focus on the sanctions regime and the role of British companies in Zimbabwe, particularly Barclays bank. First, I will reflect on why it is important that we consider the sanctions regime. None of us needs reminding of the dire situation that faces the people of that country, not just now but over very many years. There have been years of human rights abuses. The economy is in abject ruin. There has been mass suffering, with allegations of massacres perpetrated by those close to the Government during the Mugabe regime.
Since the election, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has claimed that 3,000 families have been forced out of their homes, and hundreds have been injured. It estimates that 10 to 15 of its supporters have been killed in Government-fuelled violence. Reports on the BBC are of hundreds of people fleeing across the border into Mozambique, and of 600 opposition MDC supporters camped out at the party headquarters in Mutare after attacks by ruling party militias, and so it goes on.
It is worth acknowledging that there are some positive signs in Zimbabwe and Africa in terms of the African response. First, there was the one-off arms embargo that was initiated by dock workers in South Africa, which then rapidly spread to other southern African countries. That was not initiated by leaders in Africa but by ordinary people—often trade unionists. Now there appears to be a growing regional consensus that there must not be any delivery of those arms—they appear to be on their way back to China—and that Mugabe’s attempt to steal the election must not be allowed to succeed.
The hon. Gentleman is right; his debate is extremely timely. I congratulate him on bringing it to the House. Does he share my concern that although we welcome the initiative of the dock workers, it should really have come from the African nations themselves, in particular South Africa and Mozambique, which should have led the way? They are betraying their region in the world by not taking an earlier lead. They are spineless and cannot expect the international community to act unless they are prepared to do so themselves.
I think that the international community has to act, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s view about the weakness of the leadership, particularly from the South African President Thabo Mbeki, who appears to have gone along with so much of what Robert Mugabe has perpetrated over recent years. However, I wanted to deal with some of the positive signs.
To everyone’s surprise this weekend, the Electoral Commission refused to buckle to intimidation and to overturn the seats won by the opposition. Subsequently, it confirmed that ZANU-PF had lost its majority in Parliament, and that is a remarkable development. There were reports yesterday that opposition parties are reuniting. Morgan Tsvangirai and Mr. Mutambara have confirmed that they will work together, which means that there will be an effective majority in Parliament against ZANU-PF. Last week, during the visit of Jacob Zuma, I heard from African business leaders that business is ready and willing to invest in Zimbabwe again. That is already happening in the expectation of change in that country. Africa Confidential confirms that expats and foreigners are starting to invest again in real estate and equities in the country in the expectation of change because they believe that change will ultimately happen. Those are all encouraging signs.
Let me focus on my real purpose, which is to look at the sanctions regime. European Union sanctions were first imposed in 2002 when there were fears that Mugabe was attempting to rig a presidential election—that sounds familiar, does it not? Article 6 of the EU sanctions regime referred specifically to the freezing of accounts and other funds of individuals who were named in an annexe to the EU sanctions document. No funds should be made available to, or be for the benefit of, those people listed in the annexe. The targeted sanctions were designed to hit the regime and its supporters, not the general population. Of course, sanctions in the past have perhaps been counter-productive because of the impact on the innocent general population. The UK firmly backed that sanctions regime, which was intended to make a difference and to make life very difficult for those leading individuals in the Mugabe regime. There were very disturbing reports in The Observer and The Sunday Times last year that Barclays, in particular, was helping to, in the words of The Observer, “bankroll Mugabe’s regime.” The article in The Observer from last January also referred to two other British-based companies, Standard Chartered bank and Old Mutual. I will deal first with the allegations.
The Observer reported that any commercial bank operating in Zimbabwe is required by Government to reinvest 40 per cent. of its profits in Government bonds. The argument from the companies is that “these are the terms on which we have to do business in the country, and so we have no choice.” However, The Observer reported that Barclays, Standard Chartered and Old Mutual had lent the Mugabe regime about £100 million by purchasing Treasury bills and Government bonds. It also reported that Barclays arranged finance facilities worth £110 million to Zimbabwean companies involved in tobacco, mining, sugar manufacturing and horticulture.
Later on that year, in November, The Sunday Times carried more serious allegations. It said that Barclays was providing agricultural loans, including to friends of Mugabe who had been given land seized during the land grab. Here is a British-based company, through a subsidiary, providing financial support to those who had benefited from the land grab. We have to remember that the land grab did not return land to the people of Zimbabwe. Those who benefited were primarily members of the ruling elite, and many were very close to Robert Mugabe. The Sunday Times reported that loans totalling £750 million were made in the first half of 2007, mostly through a Government scheme to boost farm productivity. The scheme is the agricultural sector productivity enhancement facility, known as ASPEF. Again, participation is the condition of doing business in Zimbabwe.
In the first half of 2007, according to the report, there appeared to be a 17 per cent. increase in loans offered by Barclays. At least five Ministers received loans through the ASPEF scheme to benefit them and the farms that they had been given following the land grab. Some of the Ministers involved are on the list of 131 regime individuals in annexe III to the EU sanctions regime. The MDC, which is a party that we ought to listen closely to, given its bravery, says that loans under ASPEF are used as a
“vehicle of personal wealth accumulation for the regime”,
provided by Barclays bank.
New allegations have emerged that at least two—I understand that it could be four—members of Mugabe’s regime who are on the sanctions list have received personal banking services from Barclays. They have been involved in the land grab strategy, which has wreaked economic havoc on the country, and one of them faces serious accusations of personal involvement in that process. Given that providing loans was specifically barred in the sanctions regime, the Government presumably condemn Barclays for doing that. I would be grateful if the Minister dealt specifically with that matter in her response.
How can Barclays bank, a British-based company, act in a way that is apparently in flagrant breach of the sanctions regime? Because it operates through a locally registered company, Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe Ltd. It is a public company, listed on the Harare stock exchange, and Barclays Bank plc, the UK-based company, holds 64 per cent. of the shares in it through a locally incorporated holding company, Afcarme Zimbabwe Holdings Ltd. We can see where the real ownership is.
Because that is a locally registered company, even if ultimately owned in majority by a UK-based company, it completely avoids the sanctions regime. Had the services in question been provided by an EU-based company there would have been a clear breach of the regime, but Barclays managed to avoid it. Surely it is scandalous that a British company, via a local subsidiary, is providing financial support and sustenance to a brutal regime and to key figures within it. We preach good governance in Africa—we hear that constantly from the Government, and rightly so—yet companies based in this country appear to be behaving reprehensibly.
After seeing the reports in The Sunday Times and The Observer, I took up the matter with the Foreign Office. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary at the end of last year and had a reply dated 7 December from Lord Malloch-Brown, the Minister of State. It confirmed that the Foreign Office was
“currently looking at one specific case to assess if there has been a breach of Article 6”
of the EU regulation that I have referred to. It appeared that an investigation was under way. I wrote again, asking for an update. The second letter that I received was far more general and evasive, and said nothing about that apparent investigation. I was left completely unclear whether any process to discover whether there had been a breach was continuing. All that the second letter said was that the Foreign Office was committed to enforcing the sanctions regime, but I have already described how weak it is because it is so easy to avoid through locally registered companies.
I wrote again on 12 March, making a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I asked for documents relating to the Foreign Office’s investigation of Barclays bank and whether there had been breaches. I am still waiting. I informed the Minister’s office last week that I had secured this debate and wanted to raise the matter, and said that it would be helpful if I had a reply before the debate. I was informed yesterday that it would not be possible to answer my letter, a month and half after it was written. Either deliberately or by default, the Foreign Office has ended up providing cover for banks such as Barclays that appear to be helping to sustain the Zimbabwean regime. Given the seriousness of the situation there, I find it extraordinary that the Foreign Office is behaving in such a way. All the questions that I asked in my letter could have been answered in a short time. There is no reason for this endless delay, and I condemn the Foreign Office for its failure to address my serious concerns.
If the sanctions are an EU regime, who in the EU is meant to police them? Is the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that Barclays has breached the EU sanctions regime and that there has been no penalty, or that Barclays has complied with the strict law of the sanctions but managed to evade the spirit of them, and that it should be condemned for that? I am not sure of the exact allegation that he is making.
I am grateful for that intervention, which helps me to clarify what I am saying. It appears to be very easy to avoid the sanctions regime by operating through a locally based company. Barclays may well have managed entirely to comply with the letter of the law by operating in that way, but the first reply that I received from the Foreign Office said that it was investigating a possible breach. I want to know what has happened to that investigation, because so far the Foreign Office has absolutely refused to tell me.
I am also interested in whether the sanctions regime has done anything effective to bring about change in Zimbabwe. One of my concerns, which was reinforced by speaking to an expert on the sanctions last week, is that it seems that there is no capacity to investigate alleged breaches of sanctions, either at EU level or, I suspect, at Foreign Office level. We impose sanctions and then do nothing to police them.
The hon. Gentleman has just made the serious charge that the Foreign Office has refused to answer him. I think that he would like to put the record straight and say that that is not the case.
I think that others here are reinforcing my view that that is not what I said. I have not had a reply. The Foreign Office has failed to reply. It seems to me—I repeat this charge—that it would have been perfectly possible to respond to the serious allegations and concerns in my letter. A month and a half later, it has failed to respond. Despite the additional chance that I gave it last week to respond before today, it has continued to fail. I hope that I will get a substantive reply, but I know this Government’s attitude towards the freedom of information legislation that they themselves introduced. It tends to take several years to get any proper, substantive response to requests to central Government.
The Government presumably condemn what is happening with Barclays, because if loans were being provided to members of the regime by a company registered in the EU, it would be a clear breach of sanctions. Is Barclays a company that the Government in this country should be doing business with? Is it a company that other public bodies in this country should be doing business with? If these sanctions are to mean anything and if we are to be serious about what we say are our concerns about the outrages going on in Zimbabwe, surely the measures that we introduce must have some teeth, rather than being pure rhetoric, and empty rhetoric at that.
It must be said that Barclays in Africa has form. Of course, we know all about its record in South Africa under the apartheid regime. What is not so widely known, however, is that Barclays provided the finance for the sale by BAE Systems of a military air traffic control system to one of the world’s poorest countries, Tanzania. That deal is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. Barclays provided the loan finance at a time when all the allegations were in the public domain and concerns were being raised that it was a dodgy deal.
I would like to know a number of things from the Government. First, what is happening to the investigation that I was initially told about in the reply to me by Lord Malloch-Brown, the Minister’s colleague, which was dated 11 December 2007? What is happening to that investigation into an alleged breach of the sanctions regime? When will I get a reply to my letter asking for information and documents under freedom of information legislation?
Secondly, what assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of the sanctions regime? What capacity is there within the Foreign Office to investigate breaches or alleged breaches of the sanctions regime? What capacity is there at the EU level to carry out such investigations, because I am told that there is no effective capacity to investigate those sanctions? Are sanctions merely a fig leaf, to demonstrate to the world that we care, while we actually do nothing effective to bring about change?
I end by reminding hon. Members why the issue is so important. We are dealing with a brutal regime, whose leader has defied the international community and the results of elections, and who continues to wreak havoc in his country, destroying it economically as well as perpetrating human rights abuses. My final question to the Government is this: what are we doing in an effective way to bring about change?
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on his speech, on securing this debate and particularly on the very interesting points that he made about Barclays, which I think we all found of great interest. May I also say, Mrs. Humble, that I too have a croaky voice, one that is probably slightly worse than that of the hon. Member for North Norfolk?
It seems clear to all of us that the international community has a responsibility to step in to try to protect any population that is being beaten up by its own Government. It remains true that, apart from a few honourable exceptions, most of the voices speaking out on behalf of Zimbabwe’s battered people come from outside Africa. There is still deep unwillingness on the part of leaders in the region to be frank and to name Mugabe’s tyranny for what it is. Any idea that Mugabe will somehow start to behave well as a result of these diplomatic and fraternal niceties is absolute rubbish. I believe that both history and the people of Zimbabwe will judge the leaders of Africa and will not look kindly on the way that, even now, some of those leaders are continuing to offer excuses for the regime and allowing the destruction of Zimbabwe to go on.
Since the election, Mugabe’s illegitimate regime has gone all-out in deploying a reign of terror on individuals and communities, out in rural areas and out of sight of any cameras, attacking people who voted for Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change. The military, the police and the secret operatives of the Central Intelligence Organisation have been unleashed, as well as the youth militia and so-called “war veterans”. ZANU-PF needs a lesson in arithmetic, because the age of most “war veterans” suggests that the war in which they supposedly fought took place long before they were born, in rather the same way that many on the Zimbabwean electoral roll seem able to cast votes long after they die.
The targeted measures imposed by the UK and other states in Europe—not only members of the EU—as well as by Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America, have achieved far more than they have sometimes been given credit for. The travel ban on Mugabe and his Ministers has been a huge embarrassment and irritation to the regime. That is why the only major demand made by ZANU-PF during the Mbeki negotiations was that the MDC should call for the lifting of so-called “sanctions”. Of course, “sanctions” is a word that has huge resonance in the region and its use has allowed Mugabe a propaganda machine to misrepresent those targeted measures.
The EU measures that have been in place since 2002 are very narrowly targeted at about 130 named individuals. They are not economic sanctions like the sanctions that were imposed on Rhodesia during the illegal regime there or on South Africa during the apartheid regime, and they do not affect the general population. They certainly cannot be blamed in any way for the chaotic mismanagement and meltdown of the economy. That is purely the fault of Mugabe’s regime.
There is strong suspicion that ZANU-PF would not even have agreed to participate in the Mbeki mediation talks if it had not believed that the process might have led to a lifting of the travel ban. Furthermore, it is significant that the communiqué from the Southern African Development Community summit in Dar Es Salaam that set up the talks:
“appealed for the lifting of all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe”.
Of course, it also claimed that
“free, fair and democratic presidential elections were held in 2002”,
which we all know is totally false. I am afraid that communiqués of that nature and the pro-Mugabe pronouncements of SADC’s secretary-general, Tomaz Salomao, have done much to discredit SADC. Fortunately, as has been mentioned earlier, there has been a shift in attitude led by people such as the President of Zambia and the new President of Botswana. They are leading SADC forward in a more progressive direction, away from some of the dishonest and disastrous posturings of the past few years.
There are now calls for the list of names on the EU restricted list to be reviewed and revised, but I think that we need to be very careful about doing that. We can afford to be cautious. If anyone currently on the banned list sees the light and wants to work for reform in Zimbabwe, there are many things that they can do simply by standing up inside Zimbabwe or by visiting neighbouring countries; they do not need to come to Europe to make a difference. I therefore hope that the Minister will confirm that she and the rest of Her Majesty’s Government will not support any lifting of any of the targeted sanctions. People who have been happy to remain inside the system while Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues in the MDC were beaten on the streets should use their contacts inside the system to help to bring about change.
I am also very suspicious of people who are now calling for a Government of national unity or for an inclusive Administration. It is strange that people who have been most reluctant to comment on anything that has happened under ZANU-PF’s years of misrule, claiming that it would compromise Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, are now very ready to hand out advice to the MDC, even though it has been given its own very clear mandate to govern by the people of Zimbabwe. There seems to be a rather odd idea that Zimbabwe is a fragile gift and that a way must be found for ZANU-PF to hand over that gift very gently to the MDC, and perhaps even stay on in the long term to help the country, as only ZANU-PF really knows how to care for Zimbabwe; but we know that ZANU-PF has destroyed Zimbabwe. ZANU-PF has undermined the economic development of the whole region and jeopardised its stability.
The struggle in Zimbabwe, carried on by the MDC as a political party and by civil society participants such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly, has been about democracy. ZANU-PF lost an election and then unleashed a new wave of violence. It would be completely anti-democratic if external pressure were to be applied on the MDC to include ZANU-PF in a new Government of national unity. What does such a proposal say to the people of Africa about democracy? What does it say to the long-suffering members of the MDC who, despite years of being victims of brutality and electoral rigging, withstood the temptation to resort to violence?
Morgan Tsvangirai and the team that he has built around him deserve enormous credit for having held together a political party under the most adverse conditions. There are far too many names in the MDC to mention, but I am honoured to call many of them my friends. I have got to know them when I have been inside Zimbabwe during my visits over the past four years. Those visits were only brief and I cannot imagine what it must be like to live under the constant threat of death and violent retribution, with no end in sight and no hope of respite. The MDC was isolated and denigrated; it was deprived of all the normal means of communicating its message, and yet it has prevailed. Imagine how much more decisive its win would have been if 3 million Zimbabweans had not been forced to flee abroad, given that most of the exiles are MDC supporters. I hope that they will soon be able to return home to rebuild their country.
Just as the government of Zimbabwe should be by Zimbabweans and for Zimbabweans, the reconstruction of Zimbabwe should be by Zimbabweans and for Zimbabweans. Huge amounts of aid will flow in from all around the world, and it is important that it be used to rebuild a sound infrastructure. The most vital element of a sound infrastructure is the local population, and Zimbabwe probably has the most able and well qualified population of any country in Africa. Having been fleeced by Mugabe and his cronies, I hope that everything will be done to guard against a bloated contingent of UN officials and international corporations being given a chance to siphon off aid to their own coffers.
The struggle has been about democracy. Democracy will work when people in Zimbabwe feel that they can influence the decisions that affect their lives. That means not only accountable politicians but accountable aid agencies. Just as outsiders must resist the temptation to try to micro-manage political solutions, they must be ready to implement the programmes that local communities want, not simply to impose grand designs that sell well in Rome or Geneva. Strengthening civil society means strengthening the voice of people at village pump level, not opening plush non-governmental organisation offices in Harare.
As an honorary vice-president of Surrey County Cricket Club, an issue that is close to my heart is the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Mugabe is a ZCU patron, and its chairman, Peter Chingoka, and managing director, Ozias Bvute, are both deeply implicated in the financial corruption that props up the regime. Through cricket, they have access to hard currency, which they misuse to exercise corrupt patronage in collaboration with the bigwigs of Zimbabwe’s ruling party. At international matches Chingoka uses the VIP pavilion to host the ZANU-PF politicians, CIO operatives and senior army officers on whom he relies for protection.
I hope that change in Zimbabwe is imminent but, until it actually comes, cricket is one small way to show that we care about the millions of Zimbabweans who feel isolated, forgotten and condemned to misery. Zimbabwe cricket is an extension of the worst aspects of Mugabe’s regime. Those of us who care for Zimbabwe and cricket in particular, or human rights and sport in general, must do all we can to support the Prime Minister’s proposal to ban the Zimbabwean cricket team from touring in the UK. I hope the Minister will confirm that no UK visa will be given for Chingoka to come here to attend any International Cricket Council meetings, or for any other reason, in the next few months. I also want to ask whether the ICC has yet given Her Majesty’s Government a copy of the KPMG audit for which they asked regarding ZCU financial malpractice.
The most encouraging development in recent days has been the show of solidarity from the trade union movement, which was mentioned earlier. The proposal by the South African Tin Workers Union not to unload the Chinese arms shipment nails the lie that Mugabe is respected by the people of southern Africa. That is a myth put around by the establishments of the region and their cronies around the world, many of whom need to boost the myth of their own popularity. Privately, many of them probably fear the end of Mugabe, particularly if it is civil society and trade unions that bring that about. They may be looking over their own shoulder to see what is happening in their own country.
I pay tribute to the efforts of the International Transport Workers Federation and particularly Randall Howard, its president, who is also general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union. Thanks to the ITLF, the transport workers of all the countries in the region have imposed a de facto arms ban on the Zimbabwe regime. Their action has huge practical and symbolic importance, and, again, it nails the lie that there is no support in the region for restrictive measures against the Zimbabwe regime.
I also pay tribute to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has stood firmly alongside its brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. When I visited COSATU in Johannesburg last year, it was impressive to see its engagement with the struggle in Zimbabwe. If Mugabe and all his hangers-on do not vacate State house soon, I understand that the ITF may well consider an embargo on the shipment of luxury cars and other goods bound for those who are running ZANU-PF and certainly not for the badly beaten and depressed people of Zimbabwe.
The trade unions have paved the way for a formal United Nations arms moratorium, and today—almost as we speak—that is being considered by the Security Council. The call for an arms embargo has been echoed by the Archbishop of Cape Town. I am pleased and proud that our Prime Minister set out his position on Zimbabwe in such robust terms when he addressed the Security Council recently. I hope that, if things have not changed by the time the UK is chairing the Security Council, further progress will be made at that time to protect the votes of the people of Zimbabwe. Those votes embody the sovereignty and independence of the country.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk. What we say in this House is significant, and it must not be assumed that the things that we say help to boost Mugabe and his propaganda machine. I hope that those people all over Zimbabwe who by various methods get communications from outside the country will be absolutely encouraged by the fact that we are debating this subject. I also hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the questions that have been asked, and that very soon we will see the end of Mugabe and a Government in Zimbabwe led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
I shall contribute briefly to this debate. We are all running out of adjectives with which to describe the regime in Zimbabwe. In a way, describing its actions is a waste of time, because we want to get down to discussing other details, but last night I sent to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is the courageous and highly respected chairman of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, some e-mails that had been sent to me about precisely what is happening. There is an organised campaign of terror by Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation and senior echelons in the army against the Movement for Democratic Change and the courageous people of Zimbabwe. It is highly moving and deeply distressing to hear exactly how brutal and vile the regime is being at this time.
To the outside world, one of Mugabe’s most perverse acts is the abandon with which he prints money. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is printing money as though it were confetti, because Zimbabwe’s Government believe that, by so doing, they have more money. That is the most economically illiterate thing that they could be doing. It is driving a nation that has been impoverished by the regime into even greater poverty.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for securing this debate. In a debate on sanctions, we must ask how that Government are physically able to print money, because what is absolutely certain is that the banknotes are not being printed in Zimbabwe. As a Back-Bench MP, it is relatively difficult to find out precisely where they are being printed, but I suspect that it is relatively easy for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to find out. Through rumours and articles that we might read in Africa Confidential or other papers, we have been led to believe that they are being printed in Germany. If that is the case, I want to look into the eyes of the company’s directors to see whether they are ashamed of their complicity in the impoverishment of Zimbabwe; I want to find out from the German Government what they are doing to bring pressure to bear on the company; and I want to find out from the European Union Commission what pressure it is bringing to bear on companies, such as that one, which support the vile and perverse actions of the Government of Zimbabwe.
At times, I have a problem with the approach of the FCO to what is happening in Zimbabwe. I visited the country in 2000 or 2001 with my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who was then the shadow Foreign Secretary, after having gone there many times in the past and having worked with members of the Movement for Democratic Change. I saw that the MDC was rising as a real political force in that country, but diplomats in our high commission were saying, “No, no, we should not be talking to the MDC. We should be talking to the young bloods in ZANU-PF. They are the future.” That was not my reading of the situation.
I was alarmed recently to discover that an enormous amount of weight was being put behind Simba Makoni as a possible future political figure in Zimbabwe. In fact, he did not have much traction with the electorate. I feel that the tentacles that diplomats put out in Zimbabwe are not really bringing back the true message—which perhaps they do not want to hear—that the MDC is the Opposition, whatever we hear about different factions, and we should be putting our weight securely behind the MDC.
I have often raised another aspect of sanctions—I raised it with the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) when he was the Foreign Secretary. Many family members and followers of the cronies and thugs who are part of Robert Mugabe’s coterie come to this country and benefit from our education and health systems and various other aspects of our tolerant western liberal democracy. The right hon. Gentleman said, “You cannot visit the sins of the fathers on their sons, daughters, cousins and aunts.” Well, I am sorry, but we have reached the stage where we just jolly well can and we must, because if those people are denied education and benefits from our health service and are prevented from doing business in this country, they will take a strong message back to Zimbabwe and will be forced to live in the country to whose impoverishment they have contributed.
If Barclays bank has been complicit, it has strong questions to answer, but in a debate such as this we should really look at who the true villains are in supporting the Government of Zimbabwe. We all know from history that the Government of South Africa can turn the switch off on the Government of Zimbabwe, given the way that Vorster turned the switch off on Smith in Rhodesia. I will not delay hon. Members any longer expressing my disappointment—that is a mild word for it—and deep frustration with the Government of Thabo Mbeki. I hope that Jacob Zuma will take a different approach. I sense that the new people moving into the governance of countries in the Southern African Development Community have a more modern, enlightened approach, and we must hope for more from them.
I do not believe that we as a Parliament can ignore—particularly at this time of the Olympics—the complicity of China in many of the problems in southern Africa. China supports the Governments of Sudan and Zimbabwe and they have been found out. Many hon. Members know that, while our Foreign Office is deciding how to cut costs here and different missions there, China has been buying up Africa—buying the infrastructure and companies—and providing arms, financial support and, no doubt, banking support to Governments such as the Government of Zimbabwe. How could they do that at a time like this? I hope that the Minister will tell us today that the Foreign Office is being as strong as it possibly can in saying to the Government of China, “You are in the eye of the storm now. The world is looking at you at the time of the Olympics. You have to join the world condemnation of such regimes, not just by warm words but by your actions. You have the power, as the Government of China, to turn off the tap of your support for regimes such as the one in Zimbabwe.”
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing today’s important debate.
I must admit that I am not an expert on Zimbabwe. I have never been there. The closest I ever came to it was playing rugby with two Rhodesian guys in the early 1970s at college in Bristol; who were really good eggs, as we say. However, we need to consider sanctions in the context of the post-election crisis in Zimbabwe and the humanitarian implications of further sanctions.
Many religious leaders in Zimbabwe feel that, if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe, we will soon be witnessing genocide similar to that in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other African hotspots of the past. There is widespread famine in the countryside, basic goods are unavailable or too expensive and there are no medicines to treat people injured in the post-election violence. There is no doubt that people are being tortured, humiliated and abducted for voting for the wrong candidate in the recent election.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) mentioned the trade unions active in the Southern African Development Community area that are trying to oppose the regime in Zimbabwe. I recently received evidence from my former trade union in Britain—the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers—via e-mails about what is going on in Zimbabwe at present. I received an e-mail from a former head teacher in my constituency, Tony Skipworth, who now lives in Darfield and was head teacher at Shafton primary school, which I used to serve as a governor. His e-mail included a couple of graphic photographs of a guy who had been beaten up in Zimbabwe. I showed those photographs to Lord Malloch-Brown last week at the meeting of the all-party group on Zimbabwe and I shall pass them to the Minister at the conclusion of this debate. They are pretty graphic.
Mr. Skipworth’s e-mail reads as follows:
“These are the latest pictures and report from out of”
“Please forward onto anybody, your local MP, human rights organization, etc., that you know, demanding something is done to help the people in Zimbabwe.
The attached pics are of a young man (38) from Dzivarasekwa, Harare who was abducted by ‘soldiers’ militia in full combat camouflage kit with fringed hats who beat him for hours with chains and fan belts on his back and chest. Also on his feet and hands. The reason for this terrible beating is that he transported MDC supporters to the pre-election rallies.
Ambulances went to Kotwa Hospital on Saturday evening to uplift five critical cases and they were stopped just short of the hospital by CIO agents who threatened their lives and then followed them for 100 kms back to Harare. Now the ambulances refuse to go out there. I really fear for those peoples’ lives. We have been trying to get them out in civilian trucks, but Police road blocks surround the Mudzi area”,
preventing them from doing so.
“This is a shocking situation we find ourselves in, when we are prevented from taking our battered and burned members to hospital.”
That is the reality of Zimbabwe today under the Mugabe regime.
I should like briefly to mention the Archbishop of York’s stance against the regime in Zimbabwe. Hon. Members might remember that he cut up his dog collar on a political programme on television just after Christmas. He also instigated a day of fasting at York cathedral this Sunday. As a Yorkshireman, I am proud to have John Sentamu as the Archbishop of York; he is doing a fantastic job.
Many political pundits in the immediate aftermath of the election felt that Mugabe was ready to stand down. It is only certain party officials and senior military and police personnel who have stopped him doing so, protecting their own backs. Many of those are among the 130 people identified by the resolution and the sanctions embargo. I agree with many of the points on sanctions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall. If sanctions are to be increased, we must try to target those individuals more and expose them more in the eyes of the media to exert more pressure on them to comply with change. The difficulty with increasing sanctions is that, if we instigate broader economic sanctions, it is only the people of Zimbabwe who will suffer and they are suffering enough at present.
I share the concern of the hon. Member for North Norfolk about the role played by three British banks—particularly Barclays bank, which he named—that appear to be assisting the Mugabe regime. I hope that they will review their business activities in Zimbabwe once they have read this debate. As a member of the all-party group on cricket, I also agree with many of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall about Zimbabwean cricket.
In efforts to resolve the current impasse, it is difficult for us as the former colonial power to be in the driving seat. In my opinion, the main driver in the first instance has to be the Southern African Development Community, which needs to take a much firmer stance in not allowing the desperate position in Zimbabwe to deteriorate any further. Most hon. Members who have contributed this morning have made that point. All 14 member states of the SADC need to be much more vociferous than they have been. In particular, South Africa, via President Mbeki, needs to set the future agenda. After all, the former Rhodesian leader, Ian Smith, knew that he was finished when South Africa pulled the plug on him. History could repeat itself. In addition, I believe that Kofi Annan and the United Nations could play a positive role in resolving the situation.
People speak of an African solution to an African problem. There has already been an African solution for Zimbabwe, which the people of Zimbabwe voted for about a month ago. The will of the people of Zimbabwe must prevail.
The debate has demonstrated that while such a discussion in Westminster Hall is valuable, the subject should be debated as soon as possible on the Floor of the House. It is astounding that the usual channels and the business managers have not made such a debate possible, and I hope that that will happen in the not-too-distant future.
Since the horrors in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, there has been an emerging doctrine of responsibility to protect, but I am becoming increasingly depressed and pessimistic about the international community’s ability to deliver consistently on that concept. If one thinks about it, there are four possible mechanisms by which one can deliver that.
The first is by way of military intervention but, as we have seen in Darfur, with the considerable difficulties of getting together even a UN and African Union military force, unless there is a fairly serious military lift capability, mobilising an effective peacekeeping maintenance or intervention force is extremely difficult. I am fairly pessimistic about what the combined UN and AU force will be able to do in Darfur, where the situation continues to disintegrate, with an increasing number of warlords seemingly having a stake, as we have seen with the deterioration in Somalia. One consequence of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan is that very few NATO countries have spare troops for peacekeeping responsibilities elsewhere in the world. The civilised international community’s capacity to enforce civilised norms by military intervention seems to be pretty thin.
The second mechanism is sanctions. This debate, which the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) introduced, demonstrates a number of difficulties with sanctions regimes. The hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) made it clear—I think we all support his point—that sanctions must be targeted to be effective, otherwise they may end up simply hurting the weakest and most vulnerable in the community that we seek to protect. If there are to be targeted sanctions, who in the EU or the UN will police them, and what are the penalties for people who breach them, either in the letter or in the spirit? For example, who in the EU will report back to the European Parliament and who will report back to this House on sanctions regimes, or will there just be a declaratory statement with no follow-through?
Sanctions against South Africa were probably effective over a period, but what effect have EU sanctions against Zimbabwe had and who has monitored their effect? I am fairly pessimistic, but I hope that the Foreign Office is considering how to assess sanctions regimes and their implementation. It will be interesting to see in the Security Council today whether China signs up to an arms sanctions regime, not just against Zimbabwe, but against Africa as a whole. It is increasingly disturbing and distressing that arms shipments from China are increasing and enhancing African instability.
The third mechanism is the International Criminal Court, but we saw with Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that it is perilously and tortuously slow. Two individuals from the Sudanese Government were indicted by the ICC, but absolutely no progress has been made on arresting them or sending them to The Hague following the indictments on Sudan. That is depressing.
The final mechanism is regional pressure. Since 2000 and the millennium declaration and summit, there has increasingly been a concept of a covenant between Africa and the rest of the world. It was best demonstrated perhaps in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which was a trade-off under which the developed world would increase the amount of its development aid and assistance to Africa, and Africa would introduce peer review and seek to exert mutual pressure on other African states to bear down on corruption, to promote good governance, and to ensure that donor funds were used wisely. It is with some distress that I say that Africa has failed that test in relation to Zimbabwe.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a meeting at the South African high commission where I heard President Mbeki speak. He was at Sussex university at about the same time as me. Indeed, I think there are more graduates of Sussex university in the South African Parliament—quite a number of African National Congress members were there—than in the UK Parliament. However, some distinguished Members of Parliament—for example, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)—were at Sussex.
What I found really depressing when listening to President Mbeki, who is a very nice and civilised man, is that he just did not get it. We were not on the same page. He told the audience honestly that he had almost not come to London for the meeting with the Prime Minister and others—Tony Blair arranged for a collection of Heads of Government from the new left to come together—because he knew that he would be lobbied about Zimbabwe. He then gave a long explanation about the electoral process in Zimbabwe, but there was not a scintilla of a shadow or a suspicion of a suggestion of any criticism of Robert Mugabe. There was not even a semiquaver. I found that deeply depressing because President Mbeki is not distanced from what is happening in the world or incapable of understanding what people are saying, and the fact that there was no resonance makes me deeply depressed about the capacity of peer and regional pressure to work on trying to ensure that the norms of responsibility to protect prevail.
The difficulty in Africa—this is an African problem that one does not find in other continents—is a covenant that states and Heads of Governments do not interfere in other Governments’ countries. There has been a mutual tontine about that, but the world has moved on and Africa as a whole must recognise that many countries, particularly the United States and elsewhere, see Africa as one entity. Zimbabwe at the moment is a disgrace to Africa as a whole. What is happening in Zimbabwe not only hurts Zimbabwe, it hurts the whole of Africa and people’s willingness to invest in Africa, to do business with Africa and to provide continuing donor support for Africa.
In the context of this debate, we must collectively do a lot more work on how to deliver the concept of responsibility to protect. How do we ensure that the international architecture is better capable of delivering on the responsibility to protect? Otherwise, we may have wonderful declaratory statements about EU sanctions or about AU/UN peacekeeping troops in relation to Darfur, but if those statements are not effective, they are just ashes in the mouth. As part of their work, I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government collectively are considering how to ensure that the international civilised community can better deliver on what is now the accepted norm of the responsibility to protect.
First, I would like to comment on the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), particularly the fact that he brought the notion of responsibility to protect into the debate. I agree with him: we need to have that philosophy behind the way in which we approach these situations. The problem is that that concept has not been taken up and international law is still way behind in the development of it. I welcome the recent speech made by the Pope at the United Nations in which he pushed for the concept to be taken more seriously. If that were to happen, we would be far more effective and diligent in considering how to make sanctions work. Clearly, sanctions are very much a part of that whole notion, but I do not think that either at a UK level, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) has shown, or at an EU or UN level have we learned the lessons on how to make sanction regimes work, how to implement them, how to monitor them and so on.
The Canadian commission that began to develop the notion of responsibility to protect in 2001 subdivided it into responsibility to prevent, to react, and to rebuild. The notion of responsibility to prevent is also something that those dealing with foreign policy need to get to grips with, whether in the FCO, the Department for International Development or elsewhere in the Government. Doing so would change the way in which we gather intelligence, focus our foreign policy and decide our budgets. If we are to take the notion of responsibility to protect seriously—and it is right that the concept is brought into the debate—we must think more deeply about it.
I agreed with the comments of the hon. Member for Banbury about President Mbeki, and similar remarks have also been made by other hon. Members. However—and I hope that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) will confirm this—at the all-party group on Zimbabwe, Members from the other place said that we should be careful about how we talk about the recent record of President Mbeki. I am not saying that I share this analysis, but the defence that is made of President Mbeki is that in the background he has skilfully pushed for the free and fair elections that have occurred. I do not know enough about what has happened to say whether that is true, but the results seem to show that the people of Zimbabwe have gone against Mugabe in a huge way, despite the intimidation of ZANU-PF. Therefore, history may show that there was a contribution by Mr. Mbeki. I totally agree with what other hon. Members have said: South Africa should go further and has been too dilatory in using its muscle to bring the denouement to this sorry affair.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the dogged determination with which he has questioned the Government. Although we are right to say that China must do this and South Africa must do that, we are elected to this place to hold the Government to account, to question their actions on ensuring that measures—sanctions and regimes—are in place, and to ask how those provisions are monitored. The Government are saying that we, in Britain, will have a sanctions regime. However, the sanctions regime that has been designed is not effective because it allows a bank, such as Barclays, to bankroll Robert Mugabe and his Cabinet. That really is not good enough and my hon. Friend is right to bring that issue to the House and to ask questions. I congratulate him on the detail that he has given.
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I understand that Barclays was mentioned. As well as making the accusation inside the House, has the hon. Gentleman made the accusation outside it, without parliamentary privilege, that Barclays has bankrolled ZANU-PF and the Cabinet? He might want to be a little more cautious.
When the hon. Gentleman reads the record, I think he will regret making that intervention because my hon. Friend quoted from newspaper articles in this country which have made similar allegations. He has also asked detailed parliamentary questions and obtained detailed answers from Ministers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the record and apologise to my hon. Friend. He should have been present at the start of the debate when those allegations were made.
When the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) talked about the involvement of Barclays, he seemed to go soft pedal a little. I am afraid that that is not good enough. My hon. Friend has produced detailed evidence and it is incumbent on the Minister and her colleagues to answer the questions that he has pursued through parliamentary questions and letters.
I am sorry if I gave that impression; that was not at all what I was saying. I said very clearly that if Barclays has questions to answer it must do so, but in the context of all the organisations and Governments who are complicit in the situation in Zimbabwe, many other villains also need to be held to account.
I am glad that I gave the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to make his position clear.
Hon. Members from all parties would certainly condemn Mugabe’s regime and its history, going back to the appalling atrocities that verged on the genocide in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1987. They would also condemn the way in which thugs have intimidated people before and since the election. When we talk about sanctions, the question is whether we can improve the sanction regime that currently exists. There may be questions about whether travel bans can be tightened up, and I am certainly in favour of considering whether the families of those on travel bans should be included in them.
There is also an issue about what signals we should send to people under the ZANU-PF regime about how they should think about the future. It is interesting that my information shows that Simba Makoni is still on the travel ban list. Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? That is an example of someone who has been brave enough to stand up against Mugabe, yet he is still on the list when there is clearly a case for him to be removed.
The really pressing case for improving the sanctions regime is with respect to the arms embargo. The UK, US and EU have had an arms embargo in place, but the fact that there was a huge shipment of arms from China shows that there is the potential for leaks through that embargo. If it were not for the spotlight of the world being on southern Africa, those arms would have ended up in Zimbabwe, make no mistake about it. It was only because of the courageous actions of those trade unionists—the South African dock workers—that that did not happen. They should be celebrated.
Having been to Lord Malloch-Brown’s briefing, I know that the Government are trying to get the different countries in the region—Zambia and Botswana in particular—to sign up to an arms moratorium. I celebrate that and think it is a good approach. However, it is time to take this matter to the UN and to have a UN arms embargo. There are arguments against that, and two of the five permanent members, presumably Russia and China, might vote against it. However, with good diplomacy, Russia, for whom southern Africa has never been a real sphere of influence, would not vote against the proposal. China is the real issue, but it is under severe pressure in the run-up to the Olympics. We know China’s position on Tibet, Darfur and elsewhere, so the last thing it wants is more bad publicity. We have a real chance to use good diplomatic skills to force China to sign up to a UN arms embargo. If we could achieve that, it would be the strongest signal that the British Government and their allies—the UN Security Council—could send.
We could talk about many other issues in relation to an arms embargo and sanctions. There are many lessons for us to learn from the experience that we have had in Zimbabwe and from other embargoes. It is particularly difficult to have embargoes on African countries because they have the poorest borders, and a lack of capacity to implement them in terms of resources and political will. I hope that the FCO, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Banbury gave, is studying those problems.
However, there is a flipside to sanctions, and we are beginning to get to that point—the holding out of incentives. As my hon. Friend said, there are encouraging signs. We need to do all that we can to promote those, because with the right incentives—the promise of aid, more development, investment and the opening of trade—people from across the political spectrum in Zimbabwe will realise that it is time that they respected the democratic will of the people, which is in the long-term interests of Zimbabwe, and, hopefully, they will help to give the final push to Mugabe and his cronies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), my parliamentary neighbour, on initiating this debate at a very apposite time.
I agree with other hon. Members that Zimbabwe should be debated on the Floor of the House in Government time. It is no good the Leader of the House saying, “Well, it is up to the Opposition parties.” As I recall, the last time that we had a proper debate on the subject was on a Thursday afternoon last July on a one-line Whip. The Minister probably has an unhappy memory of that debate. Perhaps it was unfair to her, but she was well and truly scragged by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is very good that certain situations in Zimbabwe have moved on and that the Government policy has moved on and firmed up, not only because of a debate within Government perhaps, but because of the pressure brought to bear by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I shall not repeat the points made by the hon. Member for North Norfolk. Quite rightly, he asked a number of questions for the Minister to answer. On the wider issues relating to sanctions, I recall that the other place produced a vast report last year on the whole business of sanctions, which concluded that, on the whole, sanctions often did not work, not only because of the blunderbuss approach, but because of the business of implementation.
I accept that, but many interesting questions were raised.
I shall concentrate on several points relating to sanctions in the few minutes that I have in which to speak. To begin with, I am continually astounded by the bravery and resilience of the people of Zimbabwe. In spite of what they have suffered—not only economic disruption and starvation, but massive brutality aimed at them—the regime has failed to get them to do what it hoped they would do, which was start some degree of insurrection so that they could be brutally put down. Their stamina is outstanding.
All those of us who have recently been involved in discussions with members of the MDC and people from other African countries have been impressed by the fact that they keep saying to us, “What you say and do is of absolute importance because it is reported in Zimbabwe.” As much as anything else, what is important is the fact that the international community will not let this issue go away.
I have always been aware, as I know the Minister and other hon. Members are, of how far we can go as British people, with our colonial legacy, in being seen to criticise the Mugabe regime. The idea is that we are playing into Mugabe’s hands and that he will be able to use us, as he did recently at a rally. There is a sort of guilt complex. However, it has been put forcefully to me by members of the MDC and people from other countries that we should not have that kind of colonial guilt at all. Indeed, not only do we have an important role to play, but the fact that Britain is seen to speak up on this issue is very important, and Mugabe monitors that.
The real question before us at the moment is what happens next. The situation seems to be so fluid that Mugabe has a number of options. First, he could allow the state of limbo to continue and rule under some form of emergency powers. Secondly, he could announce that he won the election—I think that that is almost impossible now—and somehow nominate a hand-picked successor. Third, he might have to come up with some form of exit strategy, one part of which, as members of the MDC have recognised, given the harsh world of political realities, would undoubtedly be that Mugabe is allowed to leave Zimbabwe and go into retirement somewhere else—Malaysia seems to be high on his list—with some of the moneys that he has acquired. Most of us would react to that idea with disgust, but it may well be the political reality; it has happened before.
The origin of the debate initiated by the hon. Member for North Norfolk is, quite rightly, the question how we plug the sanctions regime for which we are responsible, but there is no doubt that countries such as Malaysia have provided much of the financial support that Mugabe’s regime has required. The real question is how we help to shift Mugabe and his party. I think we will do so, first, by doing what we are doing now. Secondly, we should provide as much publicity and support as possible for those who are attempting to effect change and give a lot of support to those in the Southern African Development Community countries—I spoke recently to some senior Kenyan politicians about this—to bring pressure to bear on their Governments. Thirdly, we should make certain that there is no let-up in the sanctions that we are already applying. Once again, members of the MDC say that what happens to the children and other family members of senior members of the regime in terms of the education that they have been privileged to have outside Zimbabwe has an impact on the regime.
We also have to recognise—the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) might disagree—that there are splits within ZANU-PF. The MDC has, either directly or indirectly, been talking to people in that party who wish, for whatever reason, to see change. Some genuinely recognise that the system cannot continue; others are like Fouché and Talleyrand, whom experts in French history will know managed to glide seamlessly from supporting Napoleon Bonaparte to supporting the Bourbons. They want to survive regime change.
A number of hon. Members have made the point that the international community and Britain in particular should be thinking now about how we prepare for the regime change that will undoubtedly come. It could come very quickly or within the next year or two, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall that the last thing we want is the international aid caravan to descend on Zimbabwe, and not only on the grounds that vast profits will be made. Many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), have seen that happen in vast parts of the world—the descent of hundreds of 4x4 caravans and people looking for the best hotels and so on. The people of Zimbabwe and many of the politicians are perfectly able to run their own country. It is not a backwoods, third-world country at all. They need some help and advice to turn it into a modern democracy that is capable of being a powerful regional force and of providing the economic aid that is necessary to help to feed and develop the rest of southern Africa.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk on initiating this important debate. Let us look forward to having such a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on securing this important and timely debate. It seems that I might have caught his sore throat, from which I hope he recovers soon.
The subject of the debate is Zimbabwe and the application of sanctions, but hon. Members rightly and inevitably referred also to the current situation—a subject that preoccupies us all. The concerns about the terror there and the pressure that is being exerted were mentioned by a number of hon. Members, but particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis).
I shall deal first with the issue that has provoked today’s debate. We will respond shortly to a freedom of information request from the hon. Member for North Norfolk, who asked for information on the investigation being held into the activities of a British bank in Zimbabwe. We take seriously the obligations of the European Union common position, and carefully investigate suspected breaches. We are reviewing all the details that we have in order to present the hon. Gentleman with a full reply. That led to the need for an extension to the original deadline, which we will meet.
I appreciate the Minister’s response. If the allegations in respect of Zimbabwe are true, and if it is engaged in activities that would have breached the sanctions regime were they the activities of a company based in Europe, will she condemn Barclays for that activity?
That is a lot of ifs. I shall make some progress, and I can then happily come back to the hon. Gentleman.
We are determined to see that EU-targeted measures are properly enforced. The activities of banks incorporated in Britain and operating in Zimbabwe are subject to EU regulations. A number of hon. Members asked about the matter. Member states investigate such matters. We take allegations of possible breaches seriously, and we will always investigate. If there is a breach, we will act.
The Treasury leads on the issue, but with the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, as the hon. Gentleman has observed, the EU common position applies only within the EU’s area of jurisdiction. It is therefore possible for EU-based companies to own parts of business entities that are incorporated in Zimbabwe. I confirm that, to date, there have been no cases in which British banks have been found to be in breach of prohibitions under the EU regulations. We are confident that the common position is robust enough to prevent regime members from doing business with UK companies.
I turn to the specific issues raised by the hon. Gentleman regarding the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He first wrote on 12 November, and my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown replied on 7 December saying, “We share your concerns” and agreeing to look into the matter. The hon. Gentleman wrote again on 16 January, and the response was as follows:
“I can confirm that to date there have been no cases where British banks have been found to be in breach of the prohibitions of the EU regulations.”
The hon. Gentleman has indeed had a response.
The common position targets those at the top. It consists of a travel ban and an assets freeze on 131 named individuals responsible for repression or human rights violations in Zimbabwe. However, targeted measures are not the only means by which we are trying to bring about peaceful and democratic change in Zimbabwe. Only regional action backed by support from multilateral bodies can solve Zimbabwe’s crisis. The EU has made clear the need for the election results to be released without further delay, and it has expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation. We hope that another strong EU political statement will be issued today to underline member states’ concern about the ongoing situation.
At the UN Security Council today, the UN Secretariat will hold a briefing on Zimbabwe. We welcome the involvement of the Security Council and hope that it will facilitate further activity, particularly in allowing a greater focus on action to tackle human rights abuses.
I need to make progress.
As a number of hon. Members said, even at grass-roots level, regional action has proved effective. When considering our response to regimes such as that in Zimbabwe, it is important to remember that we have available a whole range of responses, and not only sanctions. Civil society has an enormously important role to play, and we have seen it in action—for example, the South African dock workers who refused to unload a ship bearing weapons destined for Zimbabwe sent a clear message.
I welcome the firm response of the South African Development Community countries in preventing the unloading and transhipment of the arms. The concern that those weapons could fuel violence during the election period was very real. It was a credit to those who stood against it that the shipment did not reach those who would have used the weapons to repress and violate innocent Zimbabweans. The reaction against that ship’s load shows the strength and breadth of feeling. It also highlights how important international co-operation can be.
The message from Africans that they would not allow the weapons to reach Zimbabwe was the most effective means of preventing the shipment from reaching its destination. We played our part in that, delivering the message that supplying arms to Zimbabwe while its people are being subjected to violence and intimidation cannot be right. However, it is international and African action that will lead to changes on the ground. We are now considering ways to halt the sale of deadly weapons to the regime in Zimbabwe, at least during the current period of instability and crisis. The EU and the US already have arms embargos in place.
Hon. Members raised a number of other questions. We are pressing for others to match the embargo, and we are working to get it translated into international policy. The subject will be raised at today’s meeting of the Security Council, following the UN Secretariat’s briefing. Ultimately, our intention is to aim for an embargo by the Security Council, particularly if the constitutional crisis in Zimbabwe continues, but our current priority is to prevent arms from reaching Zimbabwe, and we are open on how states achieve that. The Security Council discussion is a useful opportunity for taking that forward.
On the current situation, our primary focus is to find a resolution that upholds the democratic choice made by the people of Zimbabwe over a month ago. Robert Mugabe is trying to steal the election, and we will support all who are working for democratic change. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community are both calling for the presidential results to be released. Africans across the continent have expressed their growing concern that Zimbabwe is sliding further away from a peaceful solution. We continue to work with those states in the region that are best placed to apply pressure on Robert Mugabe and those who surround him.
We all share the wish of the Zimbabwean people to secure their democratic rights. We commend civil society groups in Zimbabwe, which continue to fight for democracy and good governance under incredible pressure. It is a sad fact that the election process has already been undermined, as hon. Members have outlined. Robert Mugabe has unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation. We cannot be fully confident that what is ultimately announced will not have been manipulated by those who want to keep Robert Mugabe in power.
The international community will continue to work for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Zimbabwe. The UK, with many other countries and international organisations, stands ready to assist in the economic recovery process of Zimbabwe once conditions allow. Zimbabwe needs change and it needs sensible economic and political policies. Once there is evidence of such change, we will give substantial support to recovery there. It is important to note that the UK already provides aid to support the people of Zimbabwe—£49 million in 2007 and a total of £173 million since 2000.
The UK and the international community are committed to seeing a return to democracy and prosperity for Zimbabwe. That cannot happen until the will of the people is respected. We are clear that EU-targeted measures do not hurt ordinary Zimbabweans; they target the regime. That is what we must continue to do. The crisis must not continue. We believe that the solution to the crisis must be an African one, and we hope that it will come soon, for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe.