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Mr. Cook: I welcome the broad tone of the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the discussion, which is an improvement on our previous exchange. It is important that we should send as united a message as we can to those who are listening to the debate on BBC World Service.

I fully agree with a number of the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I agree that Zimbabwe's tragedy is that it could be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, yet currently has one of the greatest economic problems in Africa.

I greatly admire the opposition leaders who have shown such courage in recent weeks. I spoke, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the leader of the opposition when he was in London. As he has spoken to him, he will be aware that Morgan Tsvangirai has strongly urged us not to take economic sanctions against Zimbabwe precisely because it would play into Mugabe's hands by reinforcing his claim that Britain, not his policies, is the problem. I strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept that advice, as I have done, from someone who has shown great courage in taking on the authority of President Mugabe.

On the specific questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked, I can of course give him a categorical assurance that there will be no assistance for land reform without a return to the rule of law and without the 1998 conditions being met in full. Those, of course, require the existence of some form of democratic process and good governance within Zimbabwe. Therefore, I can also say that there will be no assistance this side of elections, which should in any event be held imminently; if they are to be held within the constitution of Zimbabwe, they must be declared by July.

Yesterday, we discussed in the Commonwealth ministerial action group the possibility of finding a senior, preferably African, figure to lead the observer team, who would carry authority within Zimbabwe and beyond it.

As for the engagement of the European Union, I know that Opposition Front Benchers have scant time for that body, but it is the natural and right place for Britain to start to mobilise the international community. If we cannot get the European Union behind us, who else are we going to get behind us? [Interruption.] I discussed the matter with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth four weeks ago.

The unanimous nature of the decision that we reached yesterday demonstrates the degree of successful lobbying at all levels in the Commonwealth. Indeed, concern has been expressed about Zimbabwe throughout the world. I particularly appreciate the strong support of the United States, and I welcome the mission that the Southern African Development Community sent to Zimbabwe. Its leaders know the extent to which the situation there could destabilise the entire region.

The right hon. Gentleman raised again the idea of suspending aid. However, much of the aid that we provide goes to the most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe.

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The largest single projects that we support are those that combat the spread of AIDS. As 25 per cent. of the population of Zimbabwe is already HIV-positive, can it really be sensible to pull the plug on those projects, many of which are necessarily undertaken through the Government because they involve health matters? If we were to take that step, the only result that I can perceive is that we might convince the people of Zimbabwe that President Mugabe was right, and that, when it came to solving their problems, Britain was an enemy, not a friend.

Finally, the rules for suspension from the Commonwealth are well set out in the Millbrook action plan, a document adopted by the previous Conservative Government and endorsed at the most recent Commonwealth meeting. The rules make it quite clear that suspension becomes an option only if a Government becomes unconstitutional. Nigeria and Pakistan had unconstitutional military coups. Much as we deplore the nature of the policies of President Mugabe, his Government are in power constitutionally--although that will change if elections are not held within a specified time.

I end on a note of agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I agree that the chief burden of bringing home to President Mugabe the damage that his policies could do to Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa must lie with African leaders. Many of them know that the situation in Zimbabwe could start trouble in other African countries. They all know that it is in danger of creating a threat to investor confidence not just in Zimbabwe but in Africa as a whole. That is why many of them have expressed to me and to President Mugabe their concern at his actions. It is important that we work with them, and demonstrate to them both that we are willing to help and that the failure to reach agreement was not our failure, but that of the Government of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The strong words of condemnation from the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union are indeed most welcome, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective pressure is likely to come from the creditors--both private and public--and from the region because, as he has rightly said, there is a real danger of destabilisation, a decline in investor confidence and a movement from the region of trained personnel who no longer see their future there, where their skills and that investment are desperately needed? Does he agree that at the forefront should be South Africa, which is the regional power that stands to lose most and is already a major creditor, particularly in terms of the debts owed by Zimbabwe to ESKOM, the power parastatal? Is he confident that President Mbeki is prepared to move from good offices and quiet diplomacy to rather harder and more effective pressure, given the likely adverse consequences for South Africa?

Mr. Cook: I welcome the recent statement by President Mbeki, well reported in the South African press, that there must be an end to the violence and the farm occupations. I have also noted the statement by the Deputy President of South Africa, Dr. Zuma, that the actions being taken in Zimbabwe are rather curious in that they are outside the constitution which President Mugabe himself helped to write. There is clearly growing pressure within South

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Africa, which is reflected in the statements of concern by its leading ministers about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

The situation in Zimbabwe is, of course, a powerfully legitimate national interest for South Africa. Zimbabwe is its major African export market. Already one car factory in South Africa has been closed, and collapse of the Zimbabwe market has been cited as the reason. It is very much in the interests of South Africa and of the other neighbouring countries that they assist us in resolving the political crisis in Zimbabwe, to pave the way for economic progress.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): I welcome not only the fact that the Foreign Secretary has made a statement, but the terms of that statement, particularly the announcement of the suspension of exports of arms and arms-related equipment. Perhaps I might acknowledge the creativity of the Government lawyers, who seem to have found a solution to the contractual obstacles that some weeks ago apparently stood in the way of such a suspension. That is entirely welcome.

Do we not have to recognise the unpalatable fact that the United Kingdom acting alone has less influence over events in Zimbabwe than we should prefer, which makes yesterday's statement by the Commonwealth all the more important? Was it not entirely sensible to invoke the interests of the European Union when it was expected to make a contribution to the funds necessary for the redistribution of land?

I also agree with the Foreign Secretary when he acknowledges the fact that realism dictates that the greatest influence over Zimbabwe will come from its neighbours, such as South Africa, whose economy is already feeling the adverse effects of instability in the region.

Is it not a terrible indictment of the Mugabe Government that they have embarked on that provocation of unrest when inflation is at 50 per cent., unemployment is at 50 per cent., and there are estimates that 25 per cent. of the population may be HIV-positive? Would not a responsible Government be turning their attention to those problems?

Mr. Cook: I yield to the right hon. and learned Gentleman concerning his expertise in lawyers' creativity, which never ceases to amaze me. He is right to say that acting alone is less effective than acting together. In the past month, we have therefore pursued a conscious strategy of seeking to mobilise international opinion. We have had universal support wherever we have turned for support and assistance in the matter.

I personally do not regret that acting alone we are less effective than when acting with others. That precisely underlines the fact that the problem is not Britain's alone, and that, primarily, it is not even the international community's problem. Primarily, it is the problem of the Government of Zimbabwe. It is their responsibility to resolve the crisis that they face.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman eloquently recited some of the telling figures and statistics of the Zimbabwean economy, and he was right on every point. I should add that Zimbabwe is totally bankrupt in foreign exchange, which is why it currently has an oil shortage and why--with the price of the Zimbabwe dollar set at

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a wholly unreasonable level in relation to international prices--it finds it difficult to persuade tobacco farmers to sell their tobacco. I agree with him that those are the real issues on which the election should be fought. I think that the truth is that President Mugabe and his Government are talking up the land reform issue precisely because they would rather not face those issues.

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