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The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has the ability to exploit any situation to make absurd points. The idea that the problem in Zimbabwe is a result either of the Government's failure to condemn Mr. Mugabe, whom we have condemned right from the very beginning, or, even more absurdly, of the European Union, which I fear marks a return to the Conservative party's obsession with the European Union, is ridiculous. The truth is that we have made it clear throughout that we wholly condemn Mr. Mugabe. However, decisions have to be unanimous in order to get action through the Commonwealth at the Heads of Government meeting. In other words, every country has to agree. There was never a realistic prospect of getting some of them to agree to sanctions now. The Government's position, however, has been utterly clear throughout.

In respect of the three points the right hon. Gentleman demands we answer, we have already done so many, many times. Yes, of course it is the case that if the observers' report indicates that the election has been rife with violence and intimidation—as I am sure it will, given the emerging evidence—suspension should follow under the criteria agreed by the Commonwealth. There is no question in those circumstances of collective disapproval alone being satisfactory. However, that is again something that Britain alone cannot decide. With the greatest of respect, when we analyse what the right hon. Gentleman asks us to do, we have already done it. The idea that, by some miraculous power, he would have managed to persuade all the Heads of the Commonwealth to go along with something heavier stretches his credibility a little beyond what it will bear.

In respect of the other points that the right hon. Gentleman raises, it is important that we ensure that firm action follows. The one part of the Commonwealth statement that I can say I am happy with is the notion that a mechanism should exist that depends not on all 50 members of the Commonwealth, but on the past, present and future Chairmen of the Commonwealth Heads of Government who will take a decision on the basis of the recommendation of the Secretary-General. That gives us a far more streamlined way in which to reach a quick decision. I very much hope that they come to the right decision. It is at least a small step forward, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge it.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): In thanking the Prime Minister for his statement, hon. Members should acknowledge that it is an unusually

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strong statement for any Prime Minister who has returned from such an international summit meeting to make to the House of Commons, and deservedly so given the circumstances and the primary topic of international concern and discussion. In recognising that fact, I think the Prime Minister would concur that the one thing the House of Commons, as much as the Government, can do at this juncture is to speak with a united voice on Zimbabwe and the international implications. Given that the Conservative party lacks the self-confidence to believe that it could persuade a dozen and a few more members of the European Union, is it not bizarre that it should think that it could have flown to Australia to dictate the passage of actions to dozens of members of the Commonwealth?

If the bad news from Zimbabwe worsens over the next few days as we witness the conduct of the elections and their outcome, will the Prime Minister confirm that our country will take a lead on a Commonwealth basis to ensure that suspension or expulsion from the Commonwealth, which we would all have preferred to happen at this stage, proceeds as fast as is politically possible? I hope that he can reassure us on that. If the situation continues to deteriorate and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has to deal with the migration of refugees across borders into neighbouring countries, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will give its full support to whatever endeavours may have to be anticipated and dealt with, although of course we hope that they will not arise?

Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that in the court of public opinion, where Robert Mugabe is concerned, it is one thing for politicians to disagree, but when any head of state has moved to the extent that broadcasters and journalists, including those from the BBC—some of the most impartial and authoritative journalists in the world—are excluded or thrown out of a country, that in itself is an admission of guilt?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, one of the most eccentric happenings at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting was the sight of the Information Minister of Zimbabwe coming to Australia to talk to the BBC, which had of course been thrown out of Zimbabwe during its coverage of the election.

Of course we will do our very best to secure the right outcome in light of the Commonwealth observers' report. I should just add to what I said a moment ago that all three members of the group that will take the decision, on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Secretary- General, have made it clear that if the observers do detail violence and intimidation, they will take the appropriate action. Giving that assurance is different from delivering on it, but we will do our best to hold people to that position.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about refugees is true. There are already hundreds of thousands, if not more, Zimbabwean refugees flooding into neighbouring countries. One of the tragedies of what Mugabe has done to Zimbabwe is that the income of its people has literally halved in the past few years, but it is a potentially wealthy country. It could have been a leader in southern Africa, instead of which Mugabe has turned it into a country

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where industry feels uncomfortable, where people are in a state of oppression and where the economy is unable to function properly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): In view of what the Prime Minister is reported to have said about Iraq to the Australian media, and following his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) at Question Time, could he, at his convenience, glance at the report of this morning's Westminster Hall debate on military action against Iraq and reflect on whether he ought not to come and make a very full speech—as Prime Ministers used to do—on the Iraq situation before it is contemplated committing British troops? Is it not right that in a situation where there is, so to speak, an optional war, the House of Commons should have a formal endorsement by vote?

The Prime Minister: As I pointed out at Prime Minister's Question Time, we have not agreed any action in respect of Iraq at the moment, so it is important that before anyone takes a position condemning it or supporting it, we see what the Government propose we should do. On the point about coming to the House, most people would have to acknowledge that after 11 September, not only did I make several statements to the House, but so did other Ministers, and we have had no fewer than five different debates on the subject, so I really do not think that it can be said that we have been committing British forces without proper consultation with the House. When decisions do have to be taken on Iraq, of course we will come and consult the House properly as we should.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the Prime Minister take the earliest possible opportunity to impress on the Commonwealth Heads of Government that the partial attitude towards Mugabe shown by far too many of them undermines the respect and support, in this country and elsewhere, for the Commonwealth as an institution?

The Prime Minister: It is correct that I found some of the contributions at the meeting hard to understand in light of what is happening. I believe that, especially when the whole world is trying to put together a partnership for Africa based on us providing more aid, better access to our markets and help with good governance, it is all the more right and appropriate that strong and good governance in Africa is upheld.

The one qualification that I would make to that, however, is that there were reports that Africa en bloc was against strong action on Zimbabwe; that is not correct, and it is not fair to African countries. Many African leaders, including some from that region, spoke very strongly against what Mr. Mugabe is doing. There are those who feel that we should wait until the election until we make the decision to suspend. I can understand that, even though I do not agree with it. I think that it means that if the Commonwealth observers' report is adverse, there is an obligation on the Commonwealth to retain its credibility by acting against Mugabe.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us on the Labour Benches—

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I emphasise, the Labour Benches—who urged the strongest economic sanctions against the illegal regime in what was then Rhodesia need no lectures from anybody, certainly not Mugabe and his thugs, about racism? I speak as one who is perhaps not considered to be the biggest admirer of the EU, but is it not the case that if any EU member country had come anywhere near what Mugabe has done, that country would have been suspended very quickly? Perhaps the Commonwealth should learn from that.

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely. In those circumstances, the EU would of course suspend a country. That is why it is all the more important that we ensure that the Commonwealth, if it is to retain its credibility, acts. However, to answer those shouting out from the Opposition Benches, that has to be done at 50 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The advantage of the mechanism that we have agreed is that because three countries will take the decision, we have a better chance of getting the right result.

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