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Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2009

3. What recent discussions he has had with his overseas counterparts on developing a co-ordinated approach to the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. (255787)

As a result of our funding, the World Health Organisation has been able to set up a control centre in Zimbabwe to ensure a co-ordinated response to the cholera outbreak. We are in daily contact with our donor colleagues, relevant UN organisations and international financial institutions to ensure a co-ordinated response to the wider humanitarian crisis and to prepare the way for recovery when the time is right.

Bearing in mind that Morgan Tsvangirai has just been sworn in as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in what can only be described as a very imperfect deal, does the Minister believe that urgently needed humanitarian aid can be hastened? More than half the population rely on emergency food aid, and the cholera epidemic has already claimed about 3,500 lives.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. We respect Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to assume the position of Prime Minister and take the Movement for Democratic Change into a power-sharing agreement. Equally, however, we will judge that agreement and the Government on their behaviour and conduct in the period ahead. Our job, currently and in the future, is to ensure that we get humanitarian aid to the people of Zimbabwe. We are providing £47 million for life-saving assistance, with £2 million more to come in the next few weeks. We have been leading the charge to ensure that we bring the cholera outbreak under control. We are having some success, but by no means has the cholera outbreak been resolved.

Does the Minister acknowledge that given the new situation in Zimbabwe, his Department will need to evaluate closely the opportunities that may arise to engage more fully in future? What steps will his Department take to co-ordinate with the neighbouring countries and to build a consolidated ability for local and international donors to ensure the rebuilding of the economy and the alleviation of poverty in Zimbabwe?

May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are very clear about our view of the tests that should be applied to the conduct of the new power-sharing Government? Those tests must include the immediate release of political prisoners; an end to political violence and intimidation; the repeal of repressive legislation; crucially, the appointment of a credible financial team and the production of a credible economic plan; and a clear road map to the national elections, with guarantees that they will be conducted freely and fairly, in full view of the international community. Those are the tests that we will apply, and urge others to apply, to the new power-sharing arrangements.

Morgan Tsvangirai has taken a great gamble in joining in power sharing with Robert Mugabe. Do the Minister and the Government not consider that all neighbouring countries, Southern African Development Community countries including South Africa and international organisations should seek to give Mr. Tsvangirai and his party, the MDC, every support and encouragement to enable him to reduce the suffering of the Zimbabwean people?

Let us be clear: we want the new Prime Minister to succeed. We believe that we should support his courageous and brave action over a period of time to try to free Zimbabwe from tyranny. We believe that we should give him every possible support in his new role, but it is crucial that we judge the behaviour of the new Government by their actions and policies before we decide on the scale of the responses of the UK and other donors.

On the very day when Morgan Tsvangirai is being sworn in as Prime Minister of the new power-sharing Government, he faces a situation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) said, in which half the remaining population of Zimbabwe are facing malnutrition, there are at least 60,000 cases of cholera and there is a desperate need for medicines. What additional steps are the British Government taking with the Southern African Development Community to have discussions with the new power-sharing Government, and how long does the Minister believe it will take to evaluate whether there is any real improvement in the situation so that the devastation and humanitarian suffering in that great country can start to be reversed?

It is important to be clear about the help that we already provide and that is getting through: £9 million in food aid; £10 million to fight cholera; £10 million for livelihood support; £10 million for HIV prevention, as well as the support through the International Organisation for Migration for orphans and vulnerable children. In the weeks ahead, we envisage that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international institutions will begin to engage in serious discussion with the new Government about the practical help that can be made available. We believe that that help should be made available only if that Government make credible economic reform proposals, which can be delivered in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.