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Zimbabwe Elections

Volume 478: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe.

I am sure that the whole House will unite in its condemnation of the depravity of the Mugabe regime; in grieving at the needless loss of life in Zimbabwe; in wanting to send a clear message of support and solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe at this time; and in supporting new African efforts to find a resolution to the crisis. We share both their demand for a democratic future and their belief that they should not be denied by this violence or intimidation.

Since 29 March and the extraordinary scenes of courage shown by ordinary people who put their faith in democracy and the ballot box, we have seen a regime that has reverted to type. President Mugabe and his key generals used changes to the law as a means of identifying those people who chose to vote for change. From then onwards, a campaign of violence was inflicted on those people, intended to punish them for having had the temerity to say no to Robert Mugabe and no to ZANU-PF. We know that 34,000 people have been displaced, 2,700 injured and 84 murdered since that day.

This is not British propaganda. Non-governmental organisations have documented the existence of torture camps. Independent media have published the names of those who have directed and orchestrated the violence. African election observers have seen the violence with their own eyes. Thousands of teachers and public servants who had volunteered as presiding officers in the first round withdrew their names for fear of violence and intimidation in the second round. By Sunday, only 84 election observers had been accredited, when more than 10,000 had applied. It is also a matter of public record that Morgan Tsvangirai has been detained five times in the last 10 days, and that the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, has been in prison and charged with a trumped-up treason offence since arriving back in Harare. The stage was set for the most rigged election in African history.

The failure is not of the opposition but of the Government. Robert Mugabe and his thugs made an election impossible, and certainly made the notion of a free and fair election farcical. It is clear that the only people with democratic legitimacy are those who won the parliamentary majority on 29 March, and who took most votes in the first round of the presidential election, and that was of course the opposition.

If I may, I will pick up on one point that came up in the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. We do not—repeat not—recognise the Mugabe Government as the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people. We will not “de-recognise” the state of Zimbabwe, because that would mean the withdrawal of diplomatic representation and all that goes with it, but the Prime Minister could not have been clearer that we do not believe that a Government who have clubbed their way to victory and defied the constitution, which requires a second round within 30 days of the first round of the election, can claim to be the legitimate representative of the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabwe does, however, need a broad-based Government who command the confidence of the majority of Zimbabweans and, in addition to stopping the violence, that must be the focus of regional and international efforts.

Since the announcement yesterday, the Prime Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown and I have spoken to Foreign Ministers and key figures in southern Africa and around the world. This is a crucial moment for democracy and prosperity right across Africa and the whole region. Ahead of the election, 40 senior Africans underlined their concern at the conditions in Zimbabwe. The African Union Commission has called for violence to end. The head of the pan-African parliamentary observer mission has said that violence was now at the top of the agenda of this electoral process. Zambia’s President Mwanawasa, who is currently chair of the Southern African Development Community, has said that

“the current political environment in Zimbabwe falls far short of”

SADC’s “principles and guidelines”. He said yesterday, more strongly, that the situation in Zimbabwe was scandalous and that what was happening there was embarrassing to all Africans in the region. I applaud his frankness and that of his Angolan and Tanzanian colleagues, who have spoken in similar terms. It is now for SADC and AU leaders to convene in early session and to establish a clear basis for regional engagement on the issue.

At the European Council last week, the Prime Minister and other leaders underlined their readiness to take further measures, should President Mugabe attempt to steal the election. On behalf of the EU, the Slovenian Foreign Minister has issued a clear statement condemning the violence and the conditions that forced Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. I spoke to Foreign Minister Rupel last night to welcome that statement, and to discuss with him now the need urgently to consider how we can put further pressure—a widening and deepening of the EU visa ban and targeted financial measures—on Robert Mugabe and his elite that can be actioned at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. Javier Solana and Commissioner Michel have both now issued statements condemning the violence and supporting Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision.

I have also spoken to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and I welcome his statement yesterday. Later today, the Security Council will discuss Zimbabwe. I am sure that our permanent representative will speak for the whole House when he says that the UN must contribute to the resolution of this crisis before the entire region is destabilised further. It is right and it is necessary that the Security Council, the African Union and SADC work together on this. The UN agencies have prepared for continued help for refugees who flee Zimbabwe.

The UN Secretary-General’s envoy remains in the region and should be allowed to return to Zimbabwe, but the burden will still be borne by the region and by Zimbabwe’s neighbours, and the role of their leaders is vital. Britain has long and historical links with Zimbabwe. I have never believed that the rights and wrongs of our history should prevent us from speaking clearly and frankly about the situation today. Robert Mugabe’s misrule does not invalidate the struggle for independence; our colonial history does not mean we cannot denounce that which is wrong. The test, at all times, should be whether our commitment and action can help the people of Zimbabwe.

The cynical decision to suspend non-governmental organisations delivering vital humanitarian aid shows how far Mugabe has gone in abandoning Zimbabwe’s people. Our foremost duty is still to press for humanitarian space to be re-opened and for those NGOs to be allowed to restart operations. Some 1.5 million people have been affected by the ban imposed by the Mugabe regime. As the second largest bilateral donor, we will continue to provide aid and assistance as we can. The Secretary of State for International Development chaired a meeting this morning to consider what more we can do to support urgently those in Zimbabwe. Just before this sitting of the House, I spoke to our ambassador in Harare, and he and his staff are working hard to maintain a full suite of diplomatic roles in Harare. Travel advice remains under review and recommends against all but essential travel to Zimbabwe.

We will continue our efforts publicly and privately to press for a solution to this crisis that reflects the will of the people in Zimbabwe. I am sure hon. Members will agree with me that such a solution cannot come quickly enough. Mr. Mugabe says that only God can remove him from office—let us hope the people of Zimbabwe get there first.

May I thank the Foreign Secretary for coming to the House to make that statement and say at the outset that I think that there will be unanimous agreement with what he said about the violence and murder of recent weeks? Should it not now be clear to the world that this is a despotic regime that cares nothing even for the welfare of its own people and that has no democratic credibility whatever? Does he agree that no one should condemn the Movement for Democratic Change for withdrawing from such a manifestly un-free and unfair election? As Morgan Tsvangirai has said, his party was

“facing a war rather than an election.”

We should commend the bravery of those opposition figures and supporters who campaigned despite the overt threats against them and in the face of appalling violence towards and suffering for their families.

The response by Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the wider international community should be swift, united and decisive, and we welcome everything that the Government have done to encourage such a response. We welcome their commitment to raise the issue of Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council today. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Government will put actual proposals to the Security Council, for instance, on a UN commission of inquiry into the grotesque abuses of human rights taking place in Zimbabwe? Does he agree that unless there is a negotiated solution, Mugabe and those around him must one day be held accountable for the crimes being committed? Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the Government will at least call for and gather support for a United Nations referral to the International Criminal Court?

The Government announced earlier this year that they would seek an informal moratorium on arms sales to Zimbabwe. Is that still the Government’s policy, and is there any possibility of it being achieved? The Foreign Secretary rightly referred to European Union sanctions. This is surely the time for those to be seriously extended and rigorously enforced. In particular, should they not include extending the EU visa ban and assets freeze to associates and relatives of regime members, many of whom currently travel and study in Europe with impunity? The time has surely come for the pusillanimous policy of allowing Mugabe to attend summits with the European Union to be struck down once and for all—there should be no place for the man at any of the world’s summit tables.

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said, in clarifying the Prime Minister’s remarks, about not recognising Robert Mugabe’s regime as the legitimate Government of Zimbabwe. On that point, the Foreign Secretary is aware of statements—he listed some of them—by SADC and its leaders that the election should not now go ahead as planned. The President of Zambia, who is also the chairman of SADC, has said that postponement was needed

“to avert a catastrophe in the region”.

Since that is the view of those countries, and even now the regime seems bent on going ahead with the rerun, does it not follow that it is time for SADC countries to withhold recognition of the legitimacy of the regime?

Have we not also reached the point at which South Africa’s willingness to prop up the Government in Harare is harming South Africa’s image in the world and when all friends of that country should call on the South African president to live up to his regional responsibilities?

There are between 3 million and 4 million Zimbabwean refugees living in neighbouring countries. The latest shocking violence and the economic collapse are expected to create another wave of desperate people fleeing the country. The Foreign Secretary mentioned it in his statement, but can he tell the House what help has been offered to the neighbouring countries in dealing with that problem?

Whatever happens in Zimbabwe over the next weeks, we must stand ready to continue to support the people. Is he satisfied that we have prepared as fully as possible for the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe at the appropriate time, once the country is set on a clear course towards the rule of law and democracy?

Finally, from a wider perspective, the early 1990s saw a positive trend towards multi-party elections in Africa. For various countries, they marked a transition from an extended period of authoritarian rule to fledgling democratic government. They held out the possibility that democratic practices might be deepened on that continent. However, the recent use of violence, intimidation and politically motivated harassment of various forms to retain power in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and now, so spectacularly, in Zimbabwe have undermined that trend. Is it not therefore more crucial than ever that we send a message of unity and clarity to the criminal regime of Mugabe and those who may be tempted to use intimidation and brutality against their own people that that can never be accepted as the norm, and that the people of Africa deserve the rule of law and freedom just like the rest of us?

I counted 12 questions from the right hon. Gentleman, so I hope that he will forgive me if I try to pick out not the easiest ones, but those that I have not covered at great length so far. Certainly there is no condemnation of the MDC from anyone who has their senses about them. The life and limb of its supporters were at risk.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, in the happy circumstance of a negotiated solution or way forward, we would “call for and gather support for” criminal action against Robert Mugabe. Sometimes calling for such things makes it more difficult to gather support for them, but we certainly believe that all aspects of international law should be used where appropriate. We will not shy away from using the tools that are at our disposal, although as the Prime Minister made clear, Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, and any action on that level would therefore require a UN Security Council resolution.

There is an EU and, I think, a US arms sales ban on Zimbabwe and we certainly seek to take that further and wider. I think that I am right in saying that the Chinese ship that tried to dock in Zimbabwe never did disperse its cargo and we hope that that remains the case—

The hon. Gentleman shouts out his support for the South African dock workers, and he is right to highlight their role. It emphasises the need for both Governments and civil society, including trade unions, to be active on this issue.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about President Mugabe’s attendance at summits. Certainly it was gut-wrenching to see him turn up at a summit to discuss food, of all things, but it is not possible to ban him from attending the UN summit until he is no longer the President of Zimbabwe. In respect of Mugabe’s legitimacy, the right hon. Gentleman raised an important point about the need, even in the first 24 hours after Mr. Tsvangirai’s decision not to contest the second round, of southern African countries not to throw in their lot with Mugabe’s rule. As the right hon. Gentleman said, those countries should refuse to recognise the Government as a legitimate expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.

I will be in South Africa in two weeks’ time and I certainly propose to discuss all aspects of the crisis, including the refugees. I would have thought that it dawned on people in South Africa some time ago that, since the majority of those refugees are in South Africa, it is their problem as well as a Zimbabwean problem and that it afflicts them directly.

In respect of the threat of further refugees, we obviously keep the issue of stockpiles of food and shelter under review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, as I said, held a meeting on that this morning. The UN presence is critical to this, and we are in touch with the UN on this issue.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the importance of the rehabilitation—I think that was what he said—of Zimbabwe afterwards. He asked how confident I was about the plans for that. I am confident that a lot of work is going into them, but I have to say to him in all candour that a country that, according to our ambassador today, has reached 8 million per cent. inflation this week is a country for which rehabilitation is hard to plan. With that caveat in mind, I assure him that although the focus is on the immediate issue we certainly have not forgotten the need to recognise not only our responsibilities but those of all wealthier countries, including those in the region, to contribute to the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe when this vile rule is over.

The first round of the presidential election was clearly won by Morgan Tsvangirai. The Movement for Democratic Change won the parliamentary elections. Given that this second round is illegitimate now that the opposition have been forced to withdraw, should we not recognise that fact and do more to help the MDC internationally as well as to help the civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations forced into exile by the Mugabe regime? Should we not do whatever we can internationally not just to de-legitimise Mugabe but to say that the real President is Morgan Tsvangirai?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, it is not just him who says that Mr. Tsvangirai won the first round. Mr. Mugabe recognises that the parliamentary majority was won by the MDC and the presidential plurality was won by Mr. Tsvangirai. That is why I have said yesterday and today that if anyone can claim democratic legitimacy it is the MDC and Mr. Tsvangirai. It is worth saying that there is a lot of talk about Governments of national unity and about people coming together, but that must be based on respecting the only decision that the Zimbabwean people have made, which was certainly not one that would put Robert Mugabe at the head of a Government.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of his statement and we very much welcome what he has had to say. He is absolutely right that over the past few weeks Robert Mugabe’s regime has reached new heights of brutality and disregard for the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is heading for total collapse. It is clear that free and fair elections would have been impossible under those circumstances, so we can all fully understand and respect the decision taken by the MDC to pull out of the election.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that under the UN principle of responsibility to protect, the international community now has a duty to act? Is he concerned that SADC’s chairman, the President of Zambia, recently described the silence of that organisation over the elections as “scandalous”? Is the Foreign Secretary doing all he can to remind SADC countries, particularly South Africa, of the principles on which that organisation is founded, namely respect for democracy and human rights?

In the absence of a free and fair second round of elections, the Foreign Secretary is right to say that the result of the first round must be taken to express the will of the Zimbabwean people. Does he not agree, too, that the Zimbabwean Parliament should be allowed to meet unmolested to express its will on the matter?

The demands that we must now make are clear. The violence must stop and either the elections must be rescheduled with a massive international presence or a Government of national unity should be formed under Morgan Tsvangirai. In order to ensure that those demands are met, are the Government willing to take three further steps on a temporary basis until the regime complies? First, will they act to stop the remittances that provide the hard foreign currency that sustains the regime in power? Secondly, will they pressure the Governments of South Africa and Mozambique to be willing to restrict or cut off the supply of electricity to Zimbabwe? Thirdly, will they exceptionally allow asylum seekers from Zimbabwe to work in this country should they seek refuge here? Those are drastic steps but they would remove the only resources that now sustain this evil regime. The Government must show now that they are prepared to take such steps.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his overall welcome for my statement. I certainly agree that we must do all that we can in all our roles to make sure that SADC lives up to its principles. His point about the Zimbabwean Parliament is well made; it does, of course, represent one source of strength for decent people in Zimbabwe.

Let me address the three questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. He is not the first member of the Liberal Democrat Benches to raise the question whether we should try to stop remittances. On previous occasions in the House, I have tried to say in a diplomatic way that I think that a completely idiotic idea. I have to say again in the nicest possible way that it is very stupid indeed to keep on asking us to try to stop the remittances, because the remittances are keeping together the bodies and souls of very poor people.

I have said in the House before that I have met people in this country who are providing care and sending money back. When they are asked about the conditions of their families, they say, “This money is the only thing that is keeping them alive.” Honestly, I ask in the nicest possible way that people should stop suggesting the idea; I promise that it is a very bad idea—[Interruption.] Carry on if you want, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that I honestly do not believe that stopping the remittances would serve the ends that we share on this issue. They are providing much-needed currency not to the regime but to very poor people who need to keep body and soul together—ditto in respect of the electricity supply; living in Zimbabwe is tough enough without that being cut off.

The right thing to say on the question of the asylum seekers is that every case must be treated seriously on a case-by-case basis. Anyone with a genuine fear of persecution—we can see the conditions under which that would exist—must, of course, be given asylum in this country.

As my right hon. Friend knows, there is a split in the leadership of the African National Congress in South Africa. While I was there a few weeks ago, President Mbeki addressed 1,500 delegates from all over the world and did not mention the word “Zimbabwe”. However, the Speaker of the Parliament got up directly afterwards and said that nobody should remain silent on the issue.

There is one voice that is respected throughout the world and ought to be heard on the issue: President Mandela’s. He is in London this week celebrating his 90th birthday. Will my right hon. Friend discuss the matter with President Mandela and ask him to speak out, as I am sure he would have done had he been President now?

My right hon. Friend’s role with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and her visit to South Africa were important. Obviously, President Mandela has a unique position in the world, never mind in Africa. I certainly would not tell him what to do. As I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, he will use whatever offices he has and can appropriately use to effect decent change in South Africa. The issue will certainly be a subject of discussion—not necessarily during the pop concert, but at some time during his visit. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that any of us would proceed with great temerity and humility in suggesting lessons that we could teach President Mandela about how he fulfils his functions.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House to what he attributes Mr. Mbeki’s pathetically inadequate response to this terrible tragedy? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Commonwealth has put together a response formidable enough to ensure that its views are properly known?

In respect of the first question, I do not want to put myself into the mind of the leader of South Africa. As I said earlier, the burden borne by South Africa from the 2 million-plus refugees from Zimbabwe who are there is reason enough for any country—from self-interest, never mind moral interest—to speak out on the issue. We have debated before the role of President Mbeki in securing the rounds of the election. Obviously, however, the fact that those elections have not been able to take place in anything other than grotesque circumstances has rendered that null and void.

The hon. Gentleman raised a very important point about the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe’s absence from the Commonwealth is regretted and due entirely to how Mugabe has run the country. Mugabe has spurned the Commonwealth; I do not believe that the people of Zimbabwe have done so. I can certainly confirm to the hon. Gentleman that this week I will be in touch with the new secretary-general of the Commonwealth to see how neighbouring Commonwealth countries can use the organisation’s good offices in a positive way.

On 26 March last year, I made a statement on Zimbabwe. During the past year, the only thing that has gone down is support for the regime, while murder, corruption, violence, hunger and unemployment have gone up, as well as the numbers of refugees. We still see in the international community a failure to take sufficient action together in such a way that would lead to a recognition by Mugabe of the need for a transition through democratic means to a new form of democratic government. I am certain that in the end the people of Zimbabwe will win, despite the damage done to them in the immediate future. My right hon. Friend will be involved, privately and publicly, in very complex negotiations over this. I ask him to think about a group of people in Zimbabwe that nobody speaks of—the thousands of elderly and vulnerable people who will require our support immediately Mugabe goes because they may lose their lives within hours of his regime collapsing in whatever way it does.

Before I made my first statement on Zimbabwe, I read my right hon. Friend’s statement of last March. He raises a very important point. The whole country is vulnerable at a time of 8 million per cent. inflation, but those who are elderly and vulnerable are particularly at risk. I can assure him that they are very much in our thoughts on a consular and a more general humanitarian basis.

The Foreign Secretary was absolutely right to remind the House that leading Ministers in Zambia, Tanzania and Angola have spoken out against Mugabe; I am sure that he would have wished to add Botswana. However, one neighbour has not—he had to omit South Africa. When he meets President Mbeki, will he point out that many friends of South Africa on both sides of the House are appalled at this inaction and that he can no longer be an honest broker between the Mugabe regime and the opposition but has to take a stance?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, he has been in touch with President Mbeki on a regular basis, including earlier today. President Mbeki’s role is very important. Of course, there are other South African voices as well. I completely understand what the right hon. Gentleman says about friends of South Africa wanting them to play a positive role in change in Zimbabwe that brings stability and prosperity right across the southern African continent.

Without underestimating the difficulties, will my right hon. Friend look at how far Britain can work with SADC and the African Union to ensure that we support the infrastructure in Zimbabwe, which will not only be necessary for delivering humanitarian aid but, in the long run, be the basis for the re-establishment of civil society? Without practical investment now, difficult though it is, and in the future, Zimbabwe will collapse even when Mugabe goes.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. With every week and month that goes by, as Zimbabwe descends further into chaos, it is harder for it to drag itself out of that chaos or to be dragged out of it by the international community afterwards. It is a moving target, and that is making the job of planning by the international community increasingly difficult. At the World Bank and the UN, as well as in the British Government, serious thinking is going on about that country’s infrastructure, to use his word, in the widest possible sense of the term—the physical and human infrastructure. After all, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, Zimbabwe should be a rich country, not a poor country—it has the resources to be such, both human and physical. I hope that is what is keeping the people of Zimbabwe going through this dark, dark hour.

What happens in Zimbabwe will no doubt affect the long-term future of the whole of central southern Africa. While I express gratitude to the Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, for the way in which he has co-operated with Members of this House who take a deep, long-standing interest in Zimbabwe, does he accept that the one person who could bring this catastrophe to an end is Mr. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa? I support my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Could we not bring greater pressure to bear on Mr. Mbeki? Even if switching off the electricity is an extreme act, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered long enough, and they would be prepared to put up with that action if it would bring down Mugabe.

I think that we are united throughout the House on the responsibility of regional leaders. The strong words from Angola, Botswana and Zambia, set out by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), were conspicuous in the leadership role that they have played, and they have set an example for others to follow.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that there will be no shady deals when Mugabe goes, and that he will be brought to court wherever he may go?

I am struggling to know the answer to this question, but would it not be possible to start an exile Government—perhaps in South Africa, given that there are 2 million to 3 million Zimbabweans there—and would he raise that point with Mbeki when he sees him in two weeks’ time?

Certainly, the full force of international law should be felt. The important thing is that we take our lead from the people of Zimbabwe and their elected opposition representatives. It is Mr. Tsvangirai whose lead we should follow and it is premature for us to start proposing an exile Government—it must be for us to follow and support his lead. He is the man at the sharp end, and he is the one who, in the end, will have to provide leadership to find a way out of this morass.

Many people find it morally repugnant that the international community has fiddled so ineffectively as Zimbabwe has literally burned. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many British subjects there are in Zimbabwe, and what sort of plans are in place in the event of civil war, which many correspondents are now suggesting might happen? What contingency plans are there to remove those British citizens to safety? I say to the Foreign Secretary that the Almighty is not the only person who could remove Mr. Mugabe; the Special Air Service could also do a pretty good job.

Whatever the degree of frustration that the hon. Gentleman feels, I do not think that he really wants me to pursue the latter part of his question.

The best thing to say about British nationals is to refer back to my earlier statement on the issue, which recorded that there are 12,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, many of whom are elderly, and there is no evidence of them being subject to intimidation or attack thus far. They are supported by a well-developed wardens network, and by some very brave non-governmental organisations. The best thing to say is that they remain the subject of continued engagement, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a word with me afterwards, I could say a bit more to him about that.

May I urge Her Majesty’s Government to stop being quite so nice to President Mbeki of South Africa? Anyone listening to his remarks last night would wonder whether he was on the same planet as many of us. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider withdrawing Mbeki’s invitation to the next G8 summit—he attended the Gleneagles summit on the understanding that he was going to be the person in Africa speaking up for good governance and human rights. He has not honoured his side of the bargain; should we not be looking at our side?

Of all right hon. and hon. Members in the House, my hon. Friend has played a long-term role in standing up for decent values in Zimbabwe. The extension of an invitation to the G8 is to South Africa, not an individual, and it is important that we expand the G8 to include countries such as South Africa. It is also important that we engage with such countries. We should speak plainly of our own views, but we should engage with those countries, and whatever the levels of frustration, the worst signal to send would be that the leading industrialised countries had lost interest in talking to, in this case, those countries’ democratically elected leaders. Although I totally understand my hon. Friend’s frustration, I hope that she agrees, on reflection, that engagement on a clear basis is the preferable way forward.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the full force of international law should be felt. Does that mean to say that as a matter of principle he accepts that the International Criminal Court should have jurisdiction over what is going on in Zimbabwe? If that is his position, and it is mine, will he start taking action within the Security Council to mobilise support for a resolution that would subject Mr. Mugabe and his immediate supporters to the full rigour of the International Criminal Court?

When I said “the full force of international law” earlier, I did not say it lightly but because I believe it. However, we have been trying to mobilise support to get Zimbabwe on to the Security Council agenda. That has been the blockage, and I would fail in my duty if I pretended to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we were at a stage yet when we could start mobilising support for something greater than a standing item on the agenda. However, I assure him that, from my two conversations with our permanent representative at the UN yesterday and previous conversations, there is no lack of clarity on the part of all members of the Security Council about the importance of the issue. Its discussion last week and the fact that Burkina Faso became the ninth country to support its debate at the Security Council is significant. I hope that we can build on that—it is certainly our priority.

May I press my right hon. Friend on the suggestion that the European Union should extend travel and financial sanctions to the families of those who are subject to them? During my time at the Foreign Office, we took the view that the sins of the fathers should not be visited on the children but, given the enormity of what is occurring, perhaps the time has come to revisit the issue.

The 131 people who are currently subject to a travel ban have been carefully chosen. It is right to consider all options for further travel bans or financial intervention. Although we recognise that there is a pull in both directions, it is right to examine all the options without fear or favour.

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of his statement. We are all appalled by the situation in Zimbabwe. Does not he agree that it would be the making of the African Union and SADC if they could sort out the situation so that democracy, the rule of law and human rights were secured in this new era for Africans by African diplomatic efforts?

What sort of reports is my right hon. Friend getting from Zimbabwe about the—I will not say ordinary lives—the lives of ordinary people there? Are there still schools and hospitals? Is any form of local government functioning? Were the Almighty to remove the leader, how long would it take, in my right hon. Friend’s opinion, for Zimbabwe to get back to normal life?

I ask and inquire about the position of ordinary Zimbabweans, not least because some of them work for us. I have spoken to some of our locally engaged staff, who are Zimbabwean citizens and do an outstanding job for the British Government. They are lucky enough to have a steady salary. I specifically asked our ambassador today about teachers and schools. Teachers, civil servants and the army are still being paid, but, with 8 million per cent. inflation, it is a struggle for pay to keep up with it. Although it is important not to become bewitched by the regime’s economics, they point to its demise rather than its good health. I do not want to make predictions about how fast things can be turned around, but it is amazing how fast a descent into chaos can be stopped, with decent leadership.

The prosecution of Charles Taylor by the United Nations special court has clearly created the precedent that not even a Head of State is immune from prosecution under international law for crimes against humanity. Following the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), is not it right to try to put the matter on the Security Council’s agenda and ascertain who has the temerity to vote down the principle that international law should apply everywhere? There is nothing to stop the ICC, if so mandated, interviewing Zimbabwean witnesses, who are now refugees in South Africa and, if the evidence supports it, bringing indictments against those who are most responsible for crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe. Giving possible failure as a reason for not doing that sounds rather weak.

I have not heard anyone say that because we might fail, we should not do that. What I have heard people say is that the short-term priorities are to stop the violence, get the humanitarian aid in and create a negotiated process that recognises the democratic will of the Zimbabwean people. There is also a short-term need for the UN to play its proper role. However, the point that I made earlier was that Zimbabwe is not yet a standing item on the UN Security Council agenda, because that is being blocked. The first focus of our activities must therefore be to get it discussed, to get a strong presidential statement and to ensure that the envoy continues to play his role, currently in Pretoria, but with the potential to return to Harare and elsewhere in Zimbabwe. There is a longer-term game, but the short-term game really matters.

I take my right hon. Friend’s point about the issue not even being before the UN Security Council and the difficulties that can be created by calling for legal action to be taken against people before an agreement is reached. However, there is a precedent for taking individual action. For instance, the British Government took action on Bosnia before there was international agreement. I heard what Lord Malloch-Brown said about taking action against individuals who support the regime around Robert Mugabe to prevent them from moving and about freezing their assets. Is there any possibility of the Government taking action of that kind, to send those people around Robert Mugabe the strong message that after the situation is over, they will still face action?

The issue of EU sanctions on travel or finance, which I think is what Lord Malloch-Brown was talking about, is rightly on the agenda and is part of the drive. As I said earlier, 131 individuals are currently subject to those sanctions. We should seek to have that extended. What has happened in Zimbabwe has brought home to many people in the European Union the severity of the situation, and that is certainly something that we will be pursuing.

The Foreign Secretary said a moment ago that Zimbabwe needed broad-based Government. Could he elaborate on that? As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), said earlier, the MDC won the parliamentary elections, in spite of the vote rigging and the violence. Morgan Tsvangirai would obviously have won an overwhelming victory in the presidential election, had it been free and fair. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be a disgrace if Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party was rewarded for its role in the violence with any position in a future Government?

The issue at hand is the leadership of a new Government. Some of the descriptions of a Government of national unity—one who would perpetuate Mugabe’s rule—do not meet my test or any other hon. Member’s test of what constitutes a broad-based Government. However, Morgan Tsvangirai himself has made it clear that he does not seek to replace one one-party rule with another one-party rule, but is seeking support from across parties. ZANU-PF splintered, in a way that led to Mr. Makoni running in the first round of the presidential election and securing 8 per cent. of the vote. There is room for a wide range of possibilities, but not one that starts from the presumption that the current Head of State remains as the leader of the Government there, because that is the red line.

I understand that it has just been announced that Morgan Tsvangirai has had to seek sanctuary in the Dutch embassy in Harare. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that development? The Australian Government, among others, are also calling for greater sanctions against Zimbabwe, but does he agree that such a measure would simply penalise ordinary Zimbabwean citizens even further?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but one so important that it is better if I do not comment in detail on the reports that are circulating about the whereabouts of Mr. Tsvangirai. The important thing that I can confirm is that he is safe and believes himself to be secure, but that is as far as I should go. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that sanctions that ended up hitting ordinary Zimbabweans would be a perverse reward for what they have been through.

In this Olympic year, is there more that can be done to embarrass the Chinese Government, who are the financial prop that is keeping the Mugabe regime going?

In my experience, setting out to embarrass the Chinese Government is not the most effective way of getting them to do things that we want. I have, however, discussed Zimbabwe on previous occasions with the Chinese Foreign Minister. The weight of world opinion will register and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, Chinese support for the actions in the UN today is one indication of how world opinion is shifting.

Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on the Prime Minister’s comment that there would be substantial support from the UK in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, bearing in mind the pressures that are already being placed on our helicopter fleet? Does he also agree that it is time to call for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the African Union? May I encourage him to go for his Adlai Stevenson moment, and to go to the UN, with some evidence, to say that the talking should stop and we need to see some action, with the rest of the world coming up behind us?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman thinks that Adlai Stevenson is the way forward, rather than Mr. Khrushchev and his shoe. In respect of post-Mugabe reconstruction, the issue is less about military reconstruction and more about development reconstruction of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), who is no longer in his place, mentioned earlier. Economic and social reconstruction, rather than military reconstruction, is what is needed. The issue of Zimbabwe is discussed at the UN, and was discussed in the debate on post-conflict reconstruction that I chaired in New York last month. We are determined to play our part, but recognise that this is a multilateral issue, not just a bilateral one. The more that it is recognised as such, the better.

sale of student loans bill (programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (Programme motions),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Sale of Student Loans Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 22nd November 2007 (Sale of Student Loans Bill (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at this day's sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

Question agreed to.