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Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2010

12. What his most recent assessment is of the state of the UK’s bilateral relations with Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. (14857)

14. What his most recent assessment is of the state of the UK’s bilateral relations with Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. (14859)

We are doing all we can to support the aspirations of the Zimbabwean people to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. We will go on working with reformers in Zimbabwe and in the region to maximise the prospects of achieving the reforms needed for properly conducted elections.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that despite the progress that has been made through the inclusive Government, the situation in Zimbabwe remains critical and it is vital to continue all moves towards free and fair elections? What role can he play, working with the Department for International Development and others in the region, in bringing that day closer?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning DFID, because its aid budget to Zimbabwe, at £60 million, is the largest it has ever been. All DFID bilateral funds continue to go through the UN and non-governmental organisations, and regular monitoring and robust processes are in place to ensure that those funds go where they are meant to go. None of the funds go directly to Zimbabwean Government Departments.

What can the Government do to ensure that any referendum next year or any future elections are carried out in a free and fair manner? How can we ensure that they are monitored and overseen?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Our Government are doing all they possibly can, working with the Southern African Development Community, front-line countries, the UN and the EU. I agree entirely with him: two important polls are coming up next year—the referendum on the constitution and the presidential and parliamentary elections—and it is vital that monitors and observers are in place early on. We must learn the lessons of the 2008 election. They need to be in place early and after polling day they need to monitor the count as well.

Given the critical situation in Zimbabwe, does it remain the Government’s policy that Zimbabwean citizens who have claimed asylum here will be removed to Zimbabwe?

The UK Border Agency is looking to start work on a process aimed at normalising our returns policy to Zimbabwe as and when the political situation develops. However, we are not starting enforced returns yet by any means.

The Minister will, I am sure, join me in welcoming the fact that the BBC World Service has recently been able to have a correspondent back in Zimbabwe. Given the important aspects of accountability and information that the BBC World Service brings to Zimbabwe and other parts of the world, what assurances can he give that it will continue to be supported by the Foreign Office?

There are currently no proposals to close any language service. Any such proposal requires ministerial approval and no such approval has been sought or given as yet. There was an article in The Guardian that was wholly inaccurate and pure speculation. Discussions are ongoing and there will be a robust discussion involving the Foreign Office about the World Service’s £272 million annual direct grant, but no decisions have been taken. I stress that any closure of a language service requires ministerial approval.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Israel has recently altered its approach to the blockade of Gaza and ensured that there will be an increase of genuine aid—

Order. I am sorry, but I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. He was standing in relation to a question about Zimbabwe.