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Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Having led a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Zimbabwe in 1998, I very much regret the rapidly deteriorating situation in that country. I also regret that my right hon. Friend has had to make this type of statement, although I obviously fully endorse and welcome everything that he said, given the unfortunate position. I am sure that he recognises that many people in ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe do not agree with the position that Mugabe is taking. Will he spell out a clear message that now is the time for those people to stand up against the leadership of the party and, perhaps, to lead a new party forward to fight the elections?

Finally, can my right hon. Friend be absolutely sure that the Commonwealth and European Union observers we send in will have the freedom and security to go all over the country--to rural and urban areas--to see that the election is free and fair?

Mr. Cook: I fully share my hon. Friend's concern on the latter point. On divisions in ZANU-PF, my hon. Friend is right to point out that, from the information available to us, many in that party understand that present policies will not restore the economic situation in Zimbabwe and are thus likely to contribute to further erosion of support for ZANU-PF among the people of Zimbabwe. Indeed, in the primary elections, the official candidate was deselected in eight constituencies. It says a lot for the style of ZANU-PF's leadership that they have ordered the primaries to be rerun until they get the right result.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): The Foreign Secretary and his colleague, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)--who was busy elsewhere at the time--will recall the discussions 20 years ago. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the simple fact that the power of the British Government to influence events is virtually nil and that the action he proposes will merely give Mr. Mugabe a feeling of importance and significance that he does not deserve? Does he agree that the best course we can take to help the people of Rhodesia--[Hon. Members: "Oh."]--of Zimbabwe is to concentrate aid and assistance in the Republic of South Africa to help its people to build up their freedom, liberty and prosperity so as to protect them against the consequences of the serious problems in Zimbabwe? Does he accept that trying to be the emperor of the world will not solve the problems of Zimbabwe and its people? That is something which he and his colleagues should have learned a long time ago.

Mr. Cook: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I shall try to maintain the calm and measured tone of the discussion so far. In my statement, I said repeatedly that the responsibility for this problem lies in Zimbabwe. The country has been independent for 20 years and its Government must accept responsibility for its present state.

Had I not made a statement to the House, I should have been open to fair and justified criticism from the House. There is immense interest in what happens in Zimbabwe

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among the public and in the Parliament of Britain. Many people in Zimbabwe look with great care, and with some hope and anticipation, to see whether we share their concerns and whether we are worried about them.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): How many British passport holders are there in Zimbabwe? Are contingency arrangements being made to receive them in this country, should the situation in Zimbabwe spin out of control? Is it part of Mugabe's grand plan to get rid of non-Zimbabwe citizens from his country?

Mr. Cook: We cannot be certain how many there are--especially as we should have to take into account those who held dual nationality and were not solely British nationals--but the number is large.

When I heard President Mugabe's speech this morning, I was struck by one of the most purple passages, in which he leapt on press reports of evacuation plans for 20,000 British citizens. He told his rally that Britain was prepared to receive those people and invited ZANU-PF to show them how to leave the country. I ask the House to take that as a warning. It does not help to calm the situation in Zimbabwe or to defeat President Mugabe for us to engage in alarmist talk about evacuations. Of course, we shall take our position seriously and we shall consider what we should do, but no Member of the House should encourage alarmist statements about mass evacuation.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's comments on co-operation from other Commonwealth countries and the particular emphasis that he put on trying to secure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe--if that is still possible. However, if there is a continuation of the present programme of ethnic cleansing on the farms and of intimidation on the scale that appears to be going on in the country, does he agree that we may have to consider options that go beyond words and the cancellation of a few contracts?

Mr. Cook: We will take every reasonable and responsible step to make sure that our concerns are forced home, but I will not take actions that will be counter- productive and I will not take actions that the Opposition in Zimbabwe have asked me not to take. I suggest that the House listens to that advice.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend's view that a fair system of land reform must include, among other things, a fair price for the farmer and a reduction in rural poverty, but for the farmers living through deeply distressing times, more than that is demanded, is it not? Farmers who feel compelled to sell their home and farm should be allowed to take their assets and equipment with them if they wish to farm in another country. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that any funding agreement for land reform gives that protection to farmers who wish to emigrate from that bedevilled country.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend raises some reasonable points. To the extent that we find ourselves funding such a programme if the conditions and circumstances arise, we shall have to consider whether the money is paid within or

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outside Zimbabwe. Many of the farms are mortgaged to the banks in Zimbabwe. A policy of confiscation without compensation will rapidly produce further financial ruin for Zimbabwe, and not just for the farmers.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): As one who visited Rhodesia in 1967 and who has albeit distant relatives farming out there at this time, I share the Foreign Secretary's view that what is happening is an absolute tragedy. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said, Zimbabwe should be the jewel of Africa. I press the Foreign Secretary on the question of British aid for what he calls land reform, which is no less than the seizure--with or without compensation--of commercial, white-run farms. Given that those farms constitute one of the most productive assets of the Zimbabwean economy, and that they provide employment and security for a great many people in rural areas, how does the right hon. Gentleman believe that another penny of British taxpayers' money will benefit the rural poor? Before he agrees to another penny going down that particular plughole, will he tell the House what happened to the last slug of £44 million of British taxpayers' money and how much of the land that was taken from white commercial farmers and redistributed to Mugabe's cronies is now in productive use, and how much is lying fallow?

Mr. Cook: I am advised that about 3 million hectares have already been purchased under the land reform scheme, including £44 million that was provided from 1980 to 1990.

There is a real problem of poverty in the communal areas where there are people without land and it is widely accepted, and was not contested by the previous Government, that the programme for tackling rural poverty should include land reform on a fair and reasonable basis. As for farmers being forced to sell, 100 farms are already for sale. To be frank, many of those farmers would welcome a programme of land reform in which they could receive a fair price. It is bogus for the Government of Zimbabwe to pretend that they need further powers to force farmers to sell. There are many willing sellers. In the right conditions, they would welcome a programme under which those farms could be purchased.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): To probe a little further the subject of land reform, can the Foreign Secretary tell us of any country where large, privately owned, productive farms have been improved by splitting them up and giving them to small farmers? I suspect that he cannot. So why does he keep promising that, with the right conditions, he will spend millions of pounds of British taxpayers' money to ruin the farming economy in Zimbabwe? Surely he should say now that it is a failed policy which should not go ahead, and that we should put any aid into genuinely helping the rural poor rather than promise the kind of things that the Communist party used to promise.

Mr. Cook: I think that I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government have not put in a single penny to land reform purchases whereas the Conservative Government whom he supported put in £44 million to the

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land reform programme. [Interruption.] As I hear from behind me, the landless poor in rural areas see that as the way forward.

I invite the House to step back for a moment. We have a perfectly proper international obligation to insist on the rule of law, to object when court orders are not carried out and to make sure that there is a free and democratic process for the people of Zimbabwe fairly to express their views. However, it not for us to say what the policies should be.

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