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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Did my right hon. Friend see the report in a Sunday newspaper that thugs from the ruling party went into a town, savagely beat five active members of the opposition, and displayed those five people before the town, obviously to intimidate others? Two of the five people are reported to have died. Those deaths and beatings are, of course, in addition to the murders and the intimidation of the press that has been occurring in the past five months.

Although I recognise what my right hon. Friend said about the Commonwealth, if the situation continues as it is, will there not come a time when it is totally unacceptable for that country to remain in the Commonwealth? If it does remain in such circumstances, inevitably the question will arise whether, other than in the case of a military coup, countries should be entitled to remain in the Commonwealth regardless of events such as those in Zimbabwe, with all the beatings, killings and intimidation that are occurring there.

Mr. Cook: I absolutely share my hon. Friend's concern about the beatings that have taken place against those courageous enough to identify themselves with the Opposition. There have been reports of teachers beaten up in front of their class and the pupils invited to go home and tell their parents what happens to those who support the Opposition. Actions such as those are wholly inconsistent with even the basic beginning of the concept of a free and a fair election campaign.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of the Commonwealth. Yesterday saw the first meeting that the Commonwealth has held since the crisis began. Therefore, decisions taken yesterday were the first decisions. Sending the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth to express our deep concerns is very high up the escalatory ladder of Commonwealth action. However, I assure my hon. Friend that Britain is certainly not alone in the Commonwealth in our concerns. All the eight countries present yesterday share those concerns. They are widely held by members of the Commonwealth outside those who attended yesterday, and I do not believe that the Commonwealth will accept an outcome if its observers report continuing intimidation when they arrive.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I have immense affection and regard for Zimbabwe and its people. It is a country which I know well, and I believe that it offers greater potential than perhaps any other country in Africa for progress in the southern part of Africa.

I endorse everything that the Secretary of State has said today. Would he not accept, however, that the holding of free and fair elections is already compromised, and that without the involvement of people such as police from other African countries or from South Africa, under the leadership of President Mbeki and his recently retired

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predecessor, the chances of holding free and fair elections are minimal? That would be a tragedy, and the result would not be to the benefit of all the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Cook: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support, particularly as I know that he speaks from personal authority and experience. No reasonable person could disagree with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that a free and fair election has already been compromised by the events of the past month. We are anxious to deploy international observers as soon as possible to seek to deter further political intimidation and to see whether we can create fairer conditions in the run-up to an election. It will be for those observers then to report on what they see and on the conduct of the elections. They are very much wanted by the Opposition. I hope that we can deploy them as soon as we can get agreement from the Government of Zimbabwe, without which we cannot deploy them. I hope that the observers will produce a more balanced election campaign than the one that we have seen so far. They will be free to report on the outcome and we will consider their report very carefully.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I, too, welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the sale of arms and associated equipment to Zimbabwe. How concerned is he about reports in African newspapers that the spares for Hawk aircraft sold by this country to Kenya are being re-exported from Kenya to Zimbabwe? Has he investigated this story and, if so, how does he propose to close that loophole?

Mr. Cook: I am not aware of the precise reports in the African newspapers to which my hon. Friend refers, but I shall certainly look into the matter and write to her about it. There is a serious problem that, in applying arms closures of the kind that we have previously applied to other countries, a black market springs up for the spares that already exist in large numbers around the world. I can therefore give no guarantee that the British Government can halt the supply of spares that are no longer within the control of the British Government or of British territory. However, I will happily look into the matter and consider whether a protest to the relevant Government would be appropriate.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Further to the first point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), will the Foreign Secretary now acknowledge that his welcome decision to suspend the licences for the export of military equipment to Zimbabwe gives the lie to the assurances that he has previously given the House in relation to licences for the export of military equipment to other countries, including Indonesia, that he had no such power to suspend such licences?

Mr. Cook: A welcome from the right hon. and learned Gentleman is always warmly received, even if it is rather grudgingly given. On the parallel that he makes, the fact of the matter is that we halted new licences to Indonesia during the embargo. Today, I announced that we are to stop all new licences.

Mr. Howard: For spares?

Mr. Cook: All new licences, whether for spares or for new equipment, will be stopped. There are between a

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dozen and 20 existing licences only. Reviewing them is a totally different proposition from the 19,000 that we inherited from the previous Government when we took over at the general election.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to ban any further exports of military equipment to Zimbabwe. Is he aware of any other country, in particular a European Union partner, that may be trying to sell Zimbabwe such arms or military equipment? If so, will he make representations to ensure that the embargo is as effective as possible?

Mr. Cook: I assure my hon. Friend, who has raised an important matter, that we will draw the attention of all our European Union partners to the decision that I announced today. Under the EU code of conduct, we would expect to be consulted by any partner country that is contemplating a sale to Zimbabwe, although I am not aware of any country that is doing so.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): The right hon. Gentleman is right to want to ensure that the whole House speaks with one voice in condemning the action that President Mugabe is taking. I am certain that that is the case--on both sides of the House and in all parties--and it is important that Mugabe should realise that.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take action on two fronts? First, will he clear up one matter? Were certain Ministers pressing Zimbabwe to go ahead with, or press for, a loan from the International Monetary Fund only a few weeks ago? What is the Government's position on that and on any other IMF lending that might go to Zimbabwe? Secondly, will he try to ensure that when the election comes, we get an absolute assurance that monitoring will take place with no restriction? The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and I were involved in monitoring the original elections in southern Rhodesia, which brought Mugabe to power. He and I know that, unless there is complete co-operation from the authorities, it is too easy to stop a proper and full monitoring exercise during the elections. It is imperative that we get an assurance that monitoring can proceed without restriction.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his bipartisan approach to the issue. On the question about the IMF, I must put it on the record--because there have been claims in Harare that are unfounded--that although it has been claimed that Britain is making the existence of an IMF package a pre-condition of our support for land reform, that is not the case. We are prepared to go ahead with land reform without there necessarily being an IMF package. Having said that, Zimbabwe plainly needs such a package. It has no foreign exchange reserves, so there is a severe fuel shortage, which is holding back harvesting and economic progress. Therefore, although it is certainly desirable that Zimbabwe should obtain a package, to do so it must meet the full conditionality of any IMF support.

Finally, on observers and monitoring, we must have two separate categories in mind: international observers to oversee and report what is happening; and independent monitors at polling stations throughout Zimbabwe, who should mainly be local residents. We are willing to help with their training. The United States has already offered

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a considerable sum to assist in training monitors. Working together, they may be able to create the free and fair conditions that are desirable, but, together, they will need to add up to significant numbers.

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