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27 Nov 2001 : Column 206WH


11 am

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I thank you, Mr. Cook, for giving me the opportunity to introduce the debate. I also thank the Minister for kindly giving up the time to respond to it only two weeks after another debate on the subject.

In the United Kingdom, we are proud upholders of the principle of democracy. Not to elect our representatives to this place would be an alien concept to us. We elect those representatives and, ultimately, the Prime Minister and the Government in the most free, fair and open way possible. Nor would anyone in the UK see as even vaguely acceptable any attempt to control the press through coercion or to deal with Opposition parties by deadly force.

If the people of this country are unhappy with the Government, they can go to the ballot box, which is presented every five years by statutory guarantee. It can and will be used without the election's result being managed by the incumbents. However, as we constantly see on our televisions and in the newspapers, that is not the case in Zimbabwe. That is why I requested the debate. We simply cannot stand back and allow such a brutal regime to flout democracy so horrifically.

We all know about the racially motivated persecution of the white farmers, with measures in place to nationalise up to 90 per cent. of all white-owned land. There is also a massive food shortage as a result of the fact that many farmers have already been evicted from their businesses and land. Indeed, the very people whom we wish to help more than most—the black people of Zimbabwe—suffer most from that horrific way of attacking established farms and communities, which employ many local people.

It is worth considering how many people are affected by the policy. In April this year, it was reported that there had been a 20 per cent. reduction in agricultural production as a whole, with a 40 per cent. reduction in maize crops, which form the main part of the nation's diet. It is estimated that if the land grabs continue, 250,000 commercial farm workers will lose their jobs, displacing 1.2 million dependants.

Land grabs have continued, but the problems go much deeper, challenging every remnant of freedom left in the country. The international community simply cannot ignore those problems on the grounds of not wishing to interfere in another country's affairs or to shape the world in our image. It must act on the grounds of stopping a humanitarian crisis and preventing the creation of yet another unstable and dangerous rogue state.

In the summer of 2001, the International Crisis Group published a detailed report that found Zimbabwe to be in severe political and economic crisis. It characterised that through the state-directed violence aimed at crushing any political opposition and through the growing potential for internal conflict and regional instability. The group concluded that the international community needed to make a serious effort to persuade President Mugabe to conduct the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for April 2002, freely and fairly, on a level playing field, to mark the return of Zimbabwe to the rule of law.

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Fears that the elections will be conducted less than fairly are constantly reported by the press and articulated by the opposition parties. For example, a recent report in the state-run Herald newspaper stated that the Zimbabwe Government—on the recommendation of the justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, who wishes to amend Zimbabwe's electoral Act to allow only civil servants to monitor the polls—planned to ban foreign and independent local monitors from observing the 2002 presidential elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change unsurprisingly condemned that move by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, which it believes

What other purpose could any Government taking such measures intend? Surely other hon. Members will agree that a regime too frightened to allow its actions to be observed by independent witnesses is up to no good.

Past experience strengthens that argument. Last year, non-governmental organisations trained 24,000 monitors to observe the parliamentary elections, but at least 34 people were killed before the polls were opened among widespread violence and intimidation. This time round, the presidential election will be dirtier and nastier than we could imagine.

The South African Mail & Guardian reported on 13 November that Zimbabwe's central intelligence organisation has been given a 142.6 per cent. increase in its budget. Human rights groups have identified that organisation as working closely with ZANU-PF in a campaign of terror against its opponents.

A recent MDC press release reports that the Government have already started intimidation tactics, including the setting up of a hit squad to assassinate David Coltart, the MDC Member of Parliament for Bulawayo, South. It mentions plans to plant arms in MDC member's homes to "discover" them, and the fear that ZANU-PF supporters and war veterans intend to visit Victoria Falls, ahead of the party congress, to

MDC members.

On 14 November, The Star drew attention to links between Mugabe and the Libyan President, Colonel Gaddafi, with a reported $900,000 donation to Mugabe's re-election bid. That presumably relates to the statement in Zimbabwe's The Financial Gazette that Libyan entrepreneurs are to receive a dozen large farms—the equivalent of 10,000 hectares—from Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwean Government have suspended the teaching of human rights and democracy in secondary schools. They have ordered—thankfully unsuccessfully—the country's only independent newspaper to close and they are contemplating the unthinkable action of assassinating the opposition leader. Recent opinion polls show the MDC leader nearly six points ahead of Mugabe. Unchecked, Mugabe is likely to do all that he can to secure another six years in power. On 20 November, Business Day (South Africa) reported that Mugabe could ban the opposition or jail its leadership if he feels vulnerable in the run-up to the election. Take, for example, the somewhat bizarre attempts by other countries,

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organisations and newspapers to link support for the MDC to the support of terrorism. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on condemning the Zimbabwean Government as reported in The Independent on Sunday. According to the report, that Government accused six Harare-based journalists who criticised Mugabe of assisting terrorism. Mugabe's definition of terrorists is his opponents. That is a shameless attempt to link the atrocities of 11 September and the international war against terrorism with Mugabe's domestic situation. Will the Minister assure me that the Foreign Secretary's response is not simply a reaction to domestic media pressure?

According to a United Nations report, Mugabe believes that those so-called terrorists are sponsored by the British Government. He cites the death of his loyal supporter Cain Nkala as

That is quite a claim. I dare say that he could not substantiate it. It serves only to highlight a desperate man's attempts to shape the minds of people through propaganda.

I have worked closely on projects funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I can assure hon. Members that it does a great deal of wonderful work to spread the message and values of democracy—values that we all hold dear—to those states such as Zimbabwe that neglect the views of their own people.

I was angered by the attacks on the Movement for Democratic Change, which I welcomed last year into the International Young Democrat Union, of which I am chairman. I know that the MDC is a strident believer in democracy and the rule of law. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting four farmers who represent communities in Zimbabwe and they later spoke at a dinner in the other place.

It is clear what the international community must do. As long as Mugabe maintains the pretence of supporting democracy, we must ensure that elections are free and fair. That will not be an easy task and no one must pretend otherwise. A careful line must be navigated. Mugabe, scared of election observers revealing the truth about his methods, will not even allow aid agencies into the country to relieve the starvation of the estimated 1 million Zimbabweans in desperate need of food, for fear of election observers being smuggled in with them. However, the right lead, and enough pressure through threats of sanctions and loss of international recognition, could force the issue and allow election observers, if they report the elections to be anything other than free and fair, to give the rest of the civilised world a mandate to take action against Mugabe.

I could go on listing more reported atrocities, unacceptable acts and examples of actions that those of us who live in freedom find so abhorrent. I will refer only to one example, which was handed to me yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who is the Opposition spokeswoman

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on overseas development. This is an e-mail that was received recently from a lady called Tertia Geldenhuys, from Two Treehill Farm, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe. She wrote:

About 10 war veterans shouted at the lady's husband to come out. She continues:

This morning's debate has not been to rehearse the problems that we already know exist, but to prompt recognition of the task ahead. We must not allow an election to take place if the result is already decided and people will be murdered or put in jail to reach it. We must not allow the continued starvation of the people of Zimbabwe because its Government refuse to allow white farmers to own and work their land. They are the families of people whom we as a country encouraged to settle in Rhodesia at the end of the first world war, and whose industry raised the average standard of living for the people of Rhodesia way above the African average.

To retain anything of an ethical foreign policy, the Government must not ignore Zimbabwe. They should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the Zimbabwean presidential elections are impartially observed. They should make it clear that any move by Mugabe to control forcibly the result will be met with the alienation of the international community. If we fail, we will have let down millions of people—the starving, silenced and oppressed—and we will have ignored the potential creation of a threatening rogue state.

11.18 am

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): The recent history of Zimbabwe has been one of violence, intimidation and human rights abuses, to say nothing of embezzlement. To my way of thinking, that all adds up to a terrorism perpetrated by Mugabe on his own people. What a far cry that is from those days of Lancaster house, now seemingly far off, when Zimbabwe faced a new dawn. I apologise for not attending last week's debate, at which I know that the Minister spoke.

Many hon. Members have received letters from concerned relations in our constituencies, because the links of people in this country with that part of the world are deep. We have an obligation to those who are still trying to live a life there. I was contacted on behalf of my constituent, Dennis Wade of Lympstone. Like many farmers, he was recruited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) said, to start farming in post-war Rhodesia to help build up the country. He developed two farms, hacked out of rocky scrub, one in the high veldt and the other in the low. By the end he had a labour force of 90 people living on his farms and a further 450 who were casually employed. He knew that they needed an education, perhaps the

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best gift that anyone can be given, particularly in those circumstances. Like so many others, he built a school. He was not in any way unique.

Another constituent, Mr. Peter Bibby of Axminster, has written about his cousin who is also a farmer. He was arrested on his farm on 15 September. He was accused of murder because two different groups of war veterans who had occupied his farm fought one another and two men were killed. As the landowner, he was held responsible. This is a 70-year-old man, who also happens to be a British citizen. He was carted off to the police cells. His head was shaved and he was not charged for three days and four nights. He was kept in a high security cell along with murderers and armed robbers for nine nights. This is human rights Mugabe style.

What comfort can the Minister give these people? What comfort can he give another constituent, Mrs Wellington of Chardstock, who is concerned for her first cousin and her husband, an Anglican priest? She is concerned for them as they are concerned for themselves at having to renounce their British citizenship and produce a citizenship or renunciation as required by Mugabe. A desire to retain their British citizenship is more than just sentimentality. For them and many others it is like being asked to renounce an insurance policy. They have my sympathy and I hope that of the Minister.

Sympathy and empathy are not enough. Mugabe is terrorising his own people. He is no better than those terrorists whom we have been discussing in the House since 11 September. Indeed, in many ways he is worse. How many deaths is he responsible for in the Matabeleland massacres between 1982 and 1987? Some 20,000 were killed by the notorious fifth brigade, to say nothing of 3,000 extrajudicial executions, hundreds of disappearances, more than 7,000 cases of beatings and torture and more than 10,000 arbitrary detentions.

Many people cannot understand why this Government talk tough on terrorism but seem too afraid to mete out the justice that Mugabe deserves. That view is shared by his people, who wonder whether they are to have any chance of surviving in that once great country, which was the jewel in the crown of that troubled continent. It is not just the white farmers who are suffering. They are part of the problem but by no means the whole problem. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website states that Zimbabwe's economy is now in crisis. Inflation is around 80 per cent. Interest rates are unsustainably low. Unemployment is around 60 per cent. and rising. A chronic shortage of foreign exchange has led to fuel shortages and power cuts.

What is Mugabe's response? It is to increase funding for his central intelligence organisation by a massive 143 per cent. in the run-up to the presidential elections. It is not surprising that he wants to sit in power, supported by the likes of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi who, some sources suggest, has given Mugabe $900,000 for his re-election bid. That might explain why there is a marked increase in the number of Libyans in Zimbabwe, many of whom have been given land outside Harare.

The Government should stop handling Mugabe with kid gloves. They behave as if in some way the British are guilty. That is part of the Labour party's continuing

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embarrassment about Britain's colonial past—at least it seems as such to many of us. However, Britain has a role to play, not least on account of the massive investment that we have put into Zimbabwe: £500 million in bilateral aid, according to the Minister, and £40 million for land reform. How much of that money has been used to help the ordinary working man and woman in that country and how much has gone to Mugabe and his cronies? Has some been spent, perhaps, on Mugabe's new mansion, said to cost $6 million? I salute his ability to make his annual salary of £15,454 stretch so far; either that, or he has a very benevolent mortgage arrangement. I have seen Mugabe and his wife in London on shopping trips. They were based at Claridge's, of course. I am sad and angry when I see what he gets away with.

Mr. Louis Michel, the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently led a European Union delegation to Harare. The Times of 24 November reports that he received a brutal reaction from Mugabe when concerns were expressed about the recent surge of violence and repression as the country moves towards the coming elections and that EU senior officials left Harare on 23 November, shocked after a confrontation with President Mugabe. They were dealing with a man who is an embezzler and a terrorist.

Mugabe has forfeited the right to be treated as an honest and democratic politician. The Government and the Commonwealth must treat him like the terrorist and criminal that he is and must ensure, as far as we are able, that the forthcoming elections are fair. If nothing else, we owe that to the people of that benighted country.

11.27 am

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on initiating the debate. I hope that the Minister will admit that it comes at an appropriate time and will indicate in his reply the action that the Government intend to take against the excesses of Mr. Mugabe and his Administration.

I have visited Rhodesia, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and Zimbabwe several times during the 30 years that I have been a Member of the House. It is a country that I love—I do not utter the word easily or lavishly—and its people, the Matabele and the Mashona, are wonderful friendly people. Until recent times, the country has been the larder of central southern Africa and has been a net exporter of food and products to all parts of that area. Yet today, for the first time in its history, Zimbabwe is importing food. I wish to concentrate my remarks on that issue.

As the Minister knows, the World Food Programme has warned that more than 500,000 Zimbabweans face severe food shortages. That is an underestimate, if the information that I get from my many friends in Zimbabwe is accurate. One of the most chilling things is that black farmers themselves have said that, if they do not plant now, they will starve. Arable land in that wonderful, productive country is being destroyed. Wild animals, which are one of the reasons why people want to go there as tourists, are being shot. The beef herd is renowned, but many domestic animals are starving.

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The Agriculture Minister said in a statement—one of many from his mouth—that all farmland not so far listed for seizure would be governed by regulations on maximum hectares. Owners would be required to subdivide their land if it exceeded the specified limit of 500 acres for farmers and 4,000 acres for ranchers. That decision was not made on the basis that the farms would become more efficient or that more food and cattle would be produced to feed the people of Zimbabwe. At least 3,000 industries that depend directly on agriculture will collapse if something is not done, and done soon—7.2 billion Zimbabwe dollars-worth of revenue a month will be lost to Zimbabwe. Thousands of other companies are threatened—reports in The Financial Gazette refer not just to commercial organisations but to banks, insurance companies and, of course, the more typical clothing manufacturing companies of Zimbabwe.

The exchange rate is approximately 73 Zimbabwe dollars to the pound, but the black market exchange rate is 400-plus Zimbabwe dollars to the pound. There is a huge black market in Zimbabwe dollars because of what the Zimbabwe Government are doing. They are desperate to clamp down on dissenting voices and to prevent such information from getting out. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) highlighted some personal cases and I congratulate him on his contribution to the debate.

This week, the Zimbabwe Government announced a public order and security Bill, which will ban public gatherings and make it an offence punishable by life imprisonment or death to publish or communicate

Some hon. Members are worried about the legislation that is going through this Parliament, but it is nothing like the dreadful measure that Mr. Mugabe wants to enact. The Justice Minister, Chinamasa, said on television that it was being done to combat criminal and terrorist activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford mentioned the mock terrorist activities that the Zimbabwe Government are trying to use to undermine the opposition party in Zimbabwe. The Government went on to name newspapers that they say are distorting the facts and assisting terrorists. They named The Times of London, The Independent of the UK, The Star of South Africa and the Zimbabwe Independent.

President Mugabe's Government have announced that they will not allow aid agencies to distribute emergency food supplies to Zimbabweans affected by famine. The ban will wreck a relief operation that was being mobilised, as many of us know, by the United Nations, several international aid agencies and charities including Oxfam.

Western diplomats have said that nearly 1 million people are now in dire need of food according to a survey last month by the World Food Programme. Food stocks in Zimbabwe are expected to start running out in December of this year, that is, next month. Even the Government say that at least four times as many people will be affected as the famine worsens. Yet Jonathan Moyo, the Information Minister, said that

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charities would use food relief to campaign for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Is that not absolute nonsense? Do they care for their own people? That is what I have to ask.

According to The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), which is state controlled, the Information Minister said that aid agencies were planning to smuggle election monitors into Zimbabwe using the guise of food aid to continue with their plans to destabilise the present Zimbabwe Government ahead of next year's presidential elections. Suggestions by those groups that food should be distributed through non-governmental organisations were totally unacceptable, the same Information Minister said. They say that the Government alone will distribute food.

Surely the biggest concern among international donors is the strategy of ZANU-PF, the ruling party, of issuing emergency relief only to their own party supporters and cutting off areas of the country that are in famine, but have a record of support for opposition parties. Is that the way that a responsible Government operate? I do not think so.

Diplomatic sources confirm that international donors have decided to exclude the Government from the distribution of their food supplies. A source said,

Is it not an absolute tragedy that a Government who came into power just over 20 years ago with such good will and started so well, because reconciliation was part of their policy and programme, should have deteriorated so that the people of their country are suffering desperately badly?

Zimbabwe has asked the United Nations for millions of pounds in food aid after President Mugabe's campaign of harassment against white farmers, which has halved food production in that country, as we know. Victor Angelo, the United Nations development fund's Zimbabwe representative, confirmed that there has been a formal request from the Zimbabwe Government for relief assistance from Simba Makoni, the Finance Minister, which he was, of course, considering. He did not disclose the amounts requested, but the independent weekly, The Financial Gazette, said that Mr Makoni had asked for help in raising about 11 billion Zimbabwe dollars, which is equivalent to about £140 million.

I would say to the Minister, and to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) on the Opposition Front Bench, that we are looking for action from the United Kingdom, as head of the Commonwealth, to bring some sense to that wonderful country in central southern Africa. I make a plea to the Minister. Let us take whatever action is necessary to bring stable government to a country that once again can be a leader in central southern Africa and can contribute to food production.

The British Government are in a unique position. Mr Mugabe has let down the Commonwealth. He has breached the assurances that he gave to Commonwealth leaders. The Commonwealth as a whole, led by the United Kingdom, should take action to bring democracy, peace, and stability back to that wonderful country.

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11.39 am

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): As other hon. Members have done, I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on securing a debate on this important issue. He and others painted a depressing picture of the situation in Zimbabwe, but it is none the less the reality.

Zimbabwe is a country where the law no longer seems to rule, free speech is harder to enjoy, violence is a daily reality and hunger is a growing fear for many. The Zimbabwean Government are an international disgrace and show little interest in or capacity for sorting themselves out. The problems of the country came to international attention with the seizure of farmland on behalf of war veterans. Violence related to farmland continues, and it is colour blind. It is not directed simply at whites, but affects the black population as well. Out of it, a series of issues has come to the fore that must cause growing international concern.

We have seen many Government attacks on alternative sources of influence. Judges have been intimidated. The outcomes of Supreme Court decisions have been ignored. Journalists have been expelled and others who still seek to trade there have been threatened. There have been murders and attempted assassinations of opponents. In the ultimate twist to the sick situation, the Zimbabwean Government have used the tragedy of 11 September as an excuse to clamp down with further ferocity on their opponents. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned the public order and security Bill, which would ban, among other things, bail for anyone accused of treason. It is a draconian measure that we in this country must surely reject. There have also been attempts to avoid municipal elections, for fear that the opposition forces will show well in preparation for next spring's presidential elections. In recent days, we have seen calls from the war veterans' leader to cancel those elections.

Added to that uncertainty is the worsening humanitarian situation. Several hon. Members have mentioned food shortages and rationing, which are increasingly widespread in the country. Aid agencies are not allowed to do the basics of food distribution. According to the World Food Programme, more than 1 million people are in desperate need of food there. How can any Government in the world with a conscience allow that to happen?

All those aspects of the problem focus us on next year's elections. They are a key issue for those of us outside Zimbabwe, on which the Government must take a strong position. We have recently seen how European Union representatives have been abused for having the temerity to suggest that observers ought to be present at those elections. Louis Michel, a Belgian Foreign Minister, described the meeting with the president of Zimbabwe as "brutal". In our response, I hope that we will be robust. Surely the requirements for a proper election are fairly straightforward. There should be core minimum standards, an independent electoral commission, equal access to the media for all parties and, perhaps most crucially, an accurate and up-to-date voters roll.

The international community has not been silent on the issue. It has given the Zimbabwean Government time to sort themselves out. We might think that, on

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occasion, too much time has been allowed. The Abuja agreement of recent weeks set out clear requirements, agreed by the Zimbabwean Government, for a way of going forward properly and peacefully. Among other things, the Government in Zimbabwe gave assurances that there would be no further occupation of farmland. They made a commitment to restore the rule of law to the process of land reform and, most crucially, they made a commitment to freedom of expression and firm action against violence and intimidation. How hollow those words sound, and how worrying it will be if nothing develops to change the current state of affairs before the run-up to the elections.

The postponement of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, planned for several weeks ago, was understandable in the aftermath of the tragedy of 11 September, but it was particularly unfortunate with respect to the Zimbabwean situation. We must ensure that the diplomatic momentum that could have been continued at that meeting will not be lost. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) called for smart sanctions to tackle the Zimbabwean regime. That might include an arms embargo, the freezing of overseas bank accounts and restrictions on overseas travel—for shopping trips or otherwise—for key individuals in the regime. Perhaps even suspension from the Commonwealth should be considered.

If the elections are not prepared properly or are unable to meet international standards, the question will increasingly arise whether we should recognise their outcome. Javier Solana, the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, said recently that without minimum standards

It would be helpful if the Minister could explain what the UK stance will be.

Zimbabwe is in a fragile state. Neighbouring states rightly fear the consequences of further decline towards anarchy. The international community has been ignored so far and must now respond.

11.47 am

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on initiating the debate. He is a new Member of Parliament showing a lively interest in foreign affairs and he painted a most effective picture of the current crisis.

I pay tribute also to my hon. Friends the Members for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who both spoke movingly and passionately, highlighting some of the key issues that give rise to concern and basing their remarks on considerable knowledge. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon reminded us that the human stories in the tragedy of Zimbabwe show us how fortunate we are to live in a peaceful and democratic society.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) made several points about the so-called anti-terrorist legislation—also remarked on by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield—and about the attempts to delay or cancel elections and the

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failure of the Abuja agreement. We have heard some excellent contributions, but I regret that no Labour Back Bencher has felt able to attend the debate.

For decades, Zimbabwe was the bread basket of southern Africa. After independence, its future was bright. It was at the forefront of international hopes for southern African democracy and for a prosperous and stable future for its people and the region. Alas, today it is a sorry sight—a veritable tragedy. Since the 1980s, successive British Governments have given around £40 million to the Government of Zimbabwe to effect fair land reforms. Recently, at Abuja, the Foreign Secretary once more focused efforts on that issue.

The problem is that the money has not been used for land reform. It has been wasted, salted away and stolen by Mr. Mugabe and his corrupt cronies. Worse than that, however, not content with simply misusing much of the money, Mugabe's Government have taken to oppressing the citizens of that country. They have interfered in the independence of the judiciary, culminating in the forced resignation of Anthony Gubbay, the chief justice, at the start of this year. They have undermined and clamped down on free media organisations. It is a brave man who dares to venture a critical opinion in public and such oppression is unacceptable.

Let me be blunt with the Minister. We have been dismayed at the pusillanimous and unfocused approach of our Government. We have repeatedly called for travel bans the freezing of overseas assets and suspension from the Commonwealth, which is the tough action that is required to combat Mugabe's thuggery. It is sad that our European partners in France and Belgium welcomed him in March, and it is disappointing that our own Government did not feel moved to speak out at the hospitality of those Governments. The publicity and international acceptance was a huge propaganda coup for Mugabe. Indeed, following the recent meeting in Harare between Mr. Mugabe, Louis Michel, the Belgian Foreign Minister, Lord Patten, the European Union Commissioner, and Javier Solana, the European Union High Representative, Mr. Michel referred to Mugabe's brutal reaction to them. That is the richest of ironies.

The land issue remains a flashpoint and the consequence is agricultural collapse. We are witnessing economic refugees fleeing in their hundreds of thousands to South Africa, food shortages, requests for international aid to avert starvation and rampant inflation. The problem is that while the images of land theft by Mugabe's thugs are horrific, the land issue is something of a red herring. It suits Mugabe that it is something of a distraction, despite its terrible consequences. The real issue is how this previously affluent, hopeful and successful country—this regional lynchpin—is being destroyed by a megalomaniac thug who recently responded to his people's hunger by purchasing a new fleet of luxury Mercedes-Benz escort cars for his motorcade.

Zimbabwe stands at an historically important crossroads. It is make or break. The future of the people of Zimbabwe and the whole region is at stake. If Mugabe wins next year's elections through violence and corrupt electoral practices and thereby denies the Zimbabweans the chance freely to decide their own futures, we risk the final implosion of the economy. For a clear example of the economic turmoil that another

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term of office for Mr. Mugabe could cause, we need look no further than South Africa this year. In the past few months, the value of the South African rand has dropped by approximately 20 per cent. Investors will inevitably shy away from the whole region. There are no internal economic factors that could justify such a dramatic fall in the currency in such a short time. South Africa, which is the powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa, is being adversely affected by the instability engendered in the region by Zimbabwe. South Africa needs foreign businesses to invest their money to provide the economic growth to absorb high levels of unemployment and Zimbabwe, under Mr. Mugabe, is an important factor in stalling that essential growth.

If Mugabe wins next spring, it is equally likely that Libyan influence will increase to the extent that the peace and cohesion of the surrounding countries may be affected. If, on the other hand, free and fair elections take place that are properly monitored, Zimbabwe may return to stability with the hope of prosperity for her people and be able to resume her role as an important regional power and valued member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does my hon. Friend agree that next year's elections are the crux of the issue? Should the Government not tell Mugabe and his cohorts that unless the elections can be independently and freely observed, expulsion from the Commonwealth will follow forthwith?

Mr. Spring : I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks, and I shall deal with the importance of the election monitoring procedures. My hon. Friend is right—

Mr. Frank Cook (in the Chair): Order. It is important that the Chairman can hear what is said.

Mr. Spring : I am sorry, Mr. Cook. I said that I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan). I shall deal in a few minutes with how the election should proceed and how it should be monitored. If it is a failure, we shall have to revisit the question of Commonwealth membership, to which my hon. Friend rightly alluded.

A recent opinion poll suggested that the MDC, whose leaders and activists are so mercilessly harassed and attacked, has a good chance of winning the elections if the Government do not gerrymander them. Free and fair elections are crucial to Zimbabwe's future. The key to free and fair elections is the electoral recommendations of the 14 members of the Southern African Development Community. Hon. Members may be aware of them, but they deserve to be described in detail as they are vital.

SADC's recommendations include the acceptance of impartial international and regional observers from the earliest possible stage, which is now. They call for an independent electoral commission that is totally free from Government intervention and for all parties to enjoy equality of access to the media and to funding. SADC also encourages the use of private media,

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although we should note that what free or private media there are in Zimbabwe are under constant threat of Government and ZANU-PF violence. The freedom to campaign unhindered by the Government during elections features highly in the recommendations, which then turn to the registration process for voters and to the administration of voting. If Zimbabwe is to have the slightest chance of fair elections, those recommendations must be acted on now because voter registration is already under way and we are getting reports of abuse and intimidation. The recommendations also call for an electronic electoral roll to be freely available to all parties and for non-discriminatory nomination and voter registration procedures to be enshrined in the national constitution. There should also be free and impartial policing.

Mugabe cannot deride those recommendations as colonial or as having been imposed by Europeans. They come from African countries and represent regional concerns. Most importantly, Zimbabwe itself signed up to them earlier this year. It is vital that international support and pressure hold Mugabe to those recommendations.

Whatever the temptation to focus on other aspects of the Zimbabwe issue, we must not be distracted from pressing for free and fair elections. We must not engage in a debate about what constitutes observers and monitors; that is merely semantics. We must be clear that what we want and what Zimbabweans deserve is independent monitors or observers—we can call them what we will—who have open access to every aspect of the election procedure, including early registration, and who can state with authority whether the elections are indeed fair and free.

We must work with SADC to solve that problem. I was, therefore, somewhat disappointed by written answers to questions that I tabled on the issue. The Minister's replies made no reference to SADC and offered no appreciation of its role. Instead, they focused entirely on the role of the European Union.

The United States of America takes an active interest in the matter. It is hoped that the Senate and the House of Representatives will soon implement restrictions and sanctions against Zimbabwe. The international community has a duty to play its part. We should—indeed, we must—give our total support to the SADC proposals, to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Zimbabwe's proper participation in the region is crucial to ensure long-term regional stability and prosperity for people in neighbouring countries. We must work tirelessly to ensure that its people are given the opportunity, free from intimidation, to choose the path that they wish their country to take in the years ahead. We owe it to southern Africa and the people of Zimbabwe to push for the restoration of justice and democracy that the elections represent. We must act now—there is simply no time to lose.

12 noon

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on securing the debate, and a number of other hon. Members on their excellent and heartfelt contributions. If there were no crisis in Afghanistan, the

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seriousness of the situation in Zimbabwe would put it on the front page of our newspapers virtually every day and give it a far higher profile.

As several hon. Members have said, a human tragedy is unfolding in Zimbabwe as a direct result of Zimbabwe Government policy. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), read out moving e-mails. We have all received such e-mails containing testimony of the oppression and injustice being meted out to the Zimbabwean people. Hon. Members will know that this is our second Adjournment debate on Zimbabwe within a matter of weeks. It is a measure of the deep concern in all parts of the House at the situation in that country. In the last debate on 7 November, proposed by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), I set out the five principles that underpin the Government's policy on Zimbabwe. It might help hon. Members if I restate those principles.

The first is our wish to see a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe for all Zimbabweans. For the sake of the whole region, Zimbabwe's slide into political and economic chaos must be reversed. The second principle is that Zimbabweans deserve and should get the help of the international community. The European Union signalled its concerns on 29 October by opening formal consultations with Zimbabwe on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, under article 96 of the Cotonou agreement. If those consultations do not lead to remedy after 75 days, the EU may take "appropriate measures". As several hon. Members have mentioned, a senior EU ministerial team visited Zimbabwe last week to explain Europe's concerns openly to President Mugabe. The way in which that team was treated can only rebound badly on the Government of Zimbabwe.

The Commonwealth, in an initiative of President Obasanjo of Nigeria, brokered an agreement at Abuja on 6 September. Among other things, the Zimbabwe Government committed themselves to respecting the democratic and human rights principles contained in the Harare Commonwealth declaration and the Millbrook action programme. They committed themselves to refraining from further occupation of farmland; the movement of occupiers to legally acquired land; a process of land reform; the restoration of the rule of law; and respect for freedom of expression. They also gave an undertaking to take firm action against violence and intimidation.

However, three months on, I am afraid that there is little evidence that the Zimbabwe Government are honouring any of those commitments. That inaction is seriously undermining the Abuja agreement. The Commonwealth must now press the Government of Zimbabwe to take the action that they agreed and to protect the integrity of the Commonwealth Harare declaration. Zimbabwe will no doubt feature prominently in this context at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next March. Hon. Members will know that the United States has repeatedly condemned the violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. Mindful of the economic damage that Zimbabwe is inflicting on the region, the countries of the Southern African Development Community have set clear benchmarks against which they will measure the Zimbabwe Government's conduct.

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We welcome SADC's efforts to encourage stability and dialogue in Zimbabwe. I apologise to the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) if he feels that we do not. We do. Indeed, we give it a great deal of support for the measures that it is taking. The hon. Gentleman put his finger on something important. The reason that SADC can be so effective is that, because it is made up of neighbouring southern African countries, it removes President Mugabe's ability to try to portray it as some sort of neo-colonial problem.

Mr. Moore : The Minister said that it was important for the Commonwealth to press the Zimbabwe Government to go along with the Abuja agreement, but he immediately conceded that the Commonwealth Heads of Government would not meet until March to discuss the matter. That is a long time, during which intimidation will continue. What precise steps is the Commonwealth taking now?

Mr. Bradshaw : I would not want to prejudge what steps the Commonwealth might take before the March meeting, but the fact that the meeting does not take place until then does not mean that discussions about the serious situation in Zimbabwe are not continuing almost every day among Commonwealth members.

SADC has framed impressive electoral norms and standards for the region, which we believe should guide the international community in assessing Zimbabwe's forthcoming presidential election. The growing international consensus will be the most effective means of holding the Zimbabwe Government to account. It will bring concerted international pressure and the prospect of concerted international action. It will also allow a number of respected international envoys to become active in Zimbabwe, as most recently Chief Shonekan has on behalf of Nigeria's President.

Our third principle is that Zimbabwe's future prosperity depends on respect for the rule of law and an end to political violence. We will not be deflected from pressing the Zimbabwe Government on their disregard of fundamental rights, or from drawing international attention to those abuses. I reassure the hon. Member for Romford that the strong language used by the Foreign Secretary over the weekend is not simply a response to pressure from the press; the Government feel strongly about the matter, and we used similar language when the Zimbabwean Government last behaved unacceptably.

We have already taken a number of measures. We have imposed a complete embargo on arms sales to Zimbabwe, we have cut non-humanitarian aid, we have withdrawn our military training team and we shall continue to encourage international consensus for a change of direction in Zimbabwe. In the light of more worrying recent developments, the Foreign Secretary said at the weekend that he would be speaking to European Union and Commonwealth colleagues to consider how else we might respond.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : I am listening carefully to the Minister's constructive response to this important debate. Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), does he believe that it would be appropriate for the Commonwealth to meet exceptionally, so that it can

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take a decision on what should be done in Zimbabwe if there is no change in the policy of harassment and the total lack of law and order in that country? Otherwise, the so-called re-election of Mr. Mugabe will take place and the problem will continue. Is it not important to have an exceptional meeting of the Commonwealth to take action in the very near future?

Mr. Bradshaw : It certainly would not be sensible to rule anything out. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Commonwealth meeting is four or five months away. That is a long time, and if the situation does not improve other exceptional measures may have to be taken. There has been much talk of targeted sanctions, a subject raised by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore). They could include a ban on travel, the freezing of assets and, ultimately, suspension from the Commonwealth.

It might help if I explain why the Government have not yet taken those steps. There are three practical reasons. The first is timing. As I have already said, we are working hard with the EU, the Commonwealth and others to persuade the Zimbabwe Government to change course. Those processes, including Abuja, must be given a chance—Abuja goes back only to the beginning of September. However, the processes are not open ended. The credibility of the efforts depends on immediate action by the Government of Zimbabwe to honour their commitments.

The second reason is effectiveness. Further unilateral UK measures would not be effective. We must not play into President Mugabe's hands by engaging in a bilateral spat. The hon. Member for West Suffolk lauded the efficacy of SADC and acknowledged that it was effective and should be supported because President Mugabe could not portray it as a colonial body. My difficulty with the tactical approach advocated by some Opposition Members is that it would play directly into President Mugabe's hands. We do not want to do that. I shall quote briefly from an interview given by the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition on the "Today" programme last Wednesday. When asked by Sue MacGregor whether the international community or Britain could be doing more, he replied:

From the conversations that we have had with him, I think that he was trying to get across his belief that if Britain were seen to be doing something unilaterally, stepping out of line from the rest of the international community, that would play directly into President Mugabe's hands.

The hon. Member for East Devon said that we should treat the Government of Zimbabwe in the same way as we have been treating international terrorists since 11 September. One should not underestimate the seriousness of the situation in Zimbabwe, but I do not accept the accuracy of his parallel if he means that we should take military action against the Zimbabwean Government, as we have against al-Qaeda and bin Laden. That would be a foolish mistake.

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The third reason that we have not yet taken the practical measures that several hon. Members have advocated is the reality of the modern Commonwealth. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) asked why, as head of the Commonwealth, we could not do something. It is the Queen who is the head of the Commonwealth. We are just one of its 50 members and it works on consensus. However, there is a growing concern within the Commonwealth at the Zimbabwean Government's blatant disregard for the principles of the Harare declaration. The Commonwealth may well need to take some tough decisions in the run-up to CHOGM in March.

We are also determined to pursue our fourth principle, that Britain will help a democratic Zimbabwe achieve prosperity through successful land reform. That is central to fair and equitable economic development in Zimbabwe. The hon. Member for West Suffolk said that land reform was a red herring used by President Mugabe. While it is true that he blames all his problems on it, that does not mean that land reform is not important. It is very important, not least to the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Spring : Successive British Governments have been extremely generous to the Government of Zimbabwe, in an attempt to effect land reform. It simply has not happened. We have to remember that, despite the money that has been given, we have not had the land reform that is held to be desirable. The money has been abused. That was my point.

Mr. Bradshaw : Yes, I agree. Land reform in Zimbabwe cannot simply be an exercise in compensating commercial farmers. Donor funding will depend on a land reform that empowers the country's rural poor and creates greater equity in the ownership of the country's resources. However, we will not write blank cheques. The Abuja agreement made it clear that land reform would need to be based on the proposals of the United Nations development programme of December 2000.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield raised the serious problem of the terrible state of the Zimbabwean economy and made the good point that in the past Zimbabwe was the bread basket of the region, a net exporter and full of natural resources. There is no reason why it should not be an extremely successful country that sets an example to all its neighbours.

Hon. Members might like to have some figures that illustrate the dire state of the Zimbabwean economy. At the latest count, unemployment was 60 per cent. and rising. Inflation is 86 per cent and is expected to rise to 100 per cent. There was negative growth in the past 12 months of 8 per cent.

Our fifth and final principle is that the future must be left in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe. As a number of hon. Members have said, there will be presidential elections by mid-March. We want the people of Zimbabwe to be given a genuine opportunity to make their voice heard. That means avoiding the violence and intimidation witnessed during the last parliamentary elections. As hon. Members have said, that violence continues today, often against those who merely express a different point of view from the

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Government's. It is becoming clear that the Government of Zimbabwe are taking steps that will make a free and fair presidential election next spring more difficult to achieve. Campaigns of harassment against non-governmental organisations, judges and independent journalists remain commonplace.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield drew attention to the newly proposed public order and security Bill, which could place further restrictions on freedom of expression. A large number of Zimbabweans could be disfranchised. The management of the election rests with the supervisory commission appointed by the Zimbabwe Government. They have also decreed, as the hon. Member for Romford reminded us, that only civil servants can monitor the conduct of next year's poll. The Zimbabwe Government should know that there are bound to be searching questions in due course about the legitimacy of the poll if those efforts to manipulate the process continue.

The people of Zimbabwe showed courage and dignity last year when they voted in large numbers, despite the levels of intimidation. They showed that they expect and deserve genuine democracy. Britain and the international community will respect the will of the people of Zimbabwe at the presidential election, whatever their decision, so long as the campaign and poll are demonstrably free and fair.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : As the Minister is obviously coming towards the end of his speech, would he deal with the policy of the Zimbabwe Government under Mr. Mugabe in respect of humanitarian aid to that country? They will not allow the independent charitable agencies to distribute it and insist on distributing it themselves, perhaps to ensure that it goes only to their supporters. The Minister also touched on the importance of land redistribution. If land is being taken off the commercial white farmers, those black Zimbabweans who take over must be taught to farm it so that it does not go back to the bush.

Mr. Bradshaw : Yes, the humanitarian aid is still going through via NGOs. The British Government have been extremely careful in recent years to ensure that, with two small exceptions, our humanitarian aid programme

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goes through NGOs rather than through the Government of Zimbabwe. As the hon. Gentleman says, we do not trust the Government of Zimbabwe to administer it effectively. He is also right about the future role of agricultural workers from Zimbabwe. One of the great tragedies is that although most of the violence that one reads about in the papers here is against white farmers, violence against ordinary black farm workers is more regular and frequent. There is a huge refugee problem spilling out from the borders of Zimbabwe into neighbouring countries.

I was talking about what would happen if we did not feel that next year's elections were being planned in a fair and democratic way. If, as President Mugabe has said repeatedly, he truly believes that he enjoys the backing of his people, he need not fear the outcome of a genuine democratic process, but the Zimbabwe Government's approach gives little cause for optimism. That is why the European Union, the United States and others are insisting on international election observers being in place well before the election.

As I said on 7 November, anyone who ever doubted that good governance is essential to sustainable development need look no further than the crisis that has befallen Zimbabwe in the past few years. Worse still, as hon. Members have mentioned today, Zimbabwe's tragedy threatens to infect the whole region by weakening business investment and sentiment. Investor confidence in Botswana and South Africa, two of the region's modern-day success stories, has already been unfairly tainted by Zimbabwe's bad example. Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi are suffering from the dislocation of thousands of Zimbabwean farm workers and the downturn in regional trade.

The Government of Zimbabwe know what they need to do to return to the international fold, but they are not listening. Let us hope that future Governments get back on the side of their own people and the law. If they do, Britain and Zimbabwe's many friends in the international community stand ready to help. If they do not, the prospects for that wonderful country look grim.

12.21 pm

Sitting suspended.

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