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Volume 627: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2017

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s long campaign on this subject. Our policy on Zimbabwe continues to be to try to balance our deep distaste at the horrifying record of the Mugabe regime with a genuine concern for the humanitarian needs of the Zimbabwean people, who have suffered terribly over the past 40 years.

I welcome the Minister to his position and wish him every success.

Mugabe spent $53 million on private travel overseas last year. At the same time, the United Kingdom is paying proportionately more in aid to that country than to any other country in Africa. Does the Minister think that, with the elections coming next year and Mugabe refusing to implement the 2013 constitution, now is the time to put some of that money into helping voter education in those rural areas controlled by ZANU-PF, or we will not have free and fair elections?

I agree. We are trying to balance a very difficult thing, which, as the hon. Lady says, is the terrible performance of the Mugabe regime with the fact that people in that country have been dying of cholera and suffering extreme humanitarian need. The hon. Lady is absolutely correct that focusing on free and fair elections is one of the most important things we can do in a country such as Zimbabwe.

The policy of incremental engagement with Zimbabwe is obviously the best—sometimes an unpalatable best—policy, but will the Minister consider visiting Zimbabwe in the near term, as that would be a great step forward and would perhaps put the UK in a better position for the relationship in the longer term?

My hon. Friend has huge expertise as a former Africa Minister. The decision on whether or not I, as the Minister, visit Zimbabwe depends a great deal on the genuine commitment to reform of the Zimbabwean Government, and I will be guided by the ambassador in the country on when such a visit would be necessary and possible.