Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Straw: May I commend the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and the tone in which they were offered? I agree that this debate should not be an occasion for partisanship in the House. There needs to be unanimity. After all, an important element here is that hon. Members are democratically and freely elected. Some of us have lost quite a few elections, even in the free and fair conditions that apply in this country. I spent 18 years in opposition, so I know about losing elections freely. That is bad enough, but to have an election stolen from one is much worse.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Freedom!

Mr. MacShane: Just like Israel.

Mr. Straw: I will not be drawn down that route.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife asked whether it would be inconceivable, in the light of the trenchant comments made in the Commonwealth observers' initial report, for the troika not to recommend suspension. I understand the strength of that view. He and the House know very well that, even on the evidence available in December, the Government thought that the Commonwealth ought to suspend Zimbabwe's

14 Mar 2002 : Column 1037

membership. Given that the evidence has mounted since then, and given what Commonwealth observers have concluded, we think that still more today.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife asked about the future of the Commonwealth. I happen to believe that it is a strong organisation. Those of us who have attended some of the Commonwealth celebrations and seen, for example, the breadth of the non- governmental organisations involved will appreciate the huge contribution that the Commonwealth makes to civic society—and not just to inter-governmental relations—in its 54 member countries. Plainly, however, the Commonwealth's reputation could not but be damaged if no action were taken in the light of the Commonwealth observers' report.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife for mentioning the exemplary support that the United States has shown. I would add, parenthetically, that, of course, the US has interests in Zimbabwe, but that the United Kingdom's interests there are far greater. I hope that those who say that the US worries only about its own interests, is isolationist and does not consult its international colleagues, will recognise that it has been highly consultative over Zimbabwe, as in so many other matters, and that it has taken action because of its responsibility as a member of the international community rather than for its own, particular reasons.

As to the overall consequences of the election on the region, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife asks whether it will set back irretrievably the chances of a renaissance in Africa. I do not believe so; I do not believe that we should accord Mugabe that power. This is a setback, and it will be even more of a setback if other leaders in southern Africa do not recognise the huge task that they now face to rebuild confidence not only in other southern African countries but in Zimbabwe itself.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): My right hon. Friend is right to say that this is no time for narrow party points—the situation is far too serious. One of the most important things that he has told the House is that both SADC and the Commonwealth observers have roundly condemned the election as a total fraud. That is an important message because it gives the lie to those in the Mugabe camp who try to argue that this is a north-versus-south argument, the rich against the poor in Africa. We must establish both in this country and internationally that it is the ordinary people of Zimbabwe who have been robbed in this election. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell the House that he will take that message to Barcelona. The role of the European Union is not to lead world opinion but to work with our friends in democratic states throughout Africa and elsewhere who recognise that this election is a fraud against democratic principles.

One of the most certain consequences of the election is that the situation in Zimbabwe will continue to deteriorate. It is implausible to say that it will get better or stabilise. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will continue to support people such as Mr. Tsvangirai in the MDC and those who are pushing for democratic change? When one party has stolen an

14 Mar 2002 : Column 1038

election, it is legitimate to suspend the normal terms and conditions of impartiality. We should support those in Zimbabwe who will fight for democracy.

Mr. Straw: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is right to say that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe have been robbed by this election result. One of the many untruths that Mugabe was trying to peddle is that this is a black-versus-white issue. However, if one looks at those who have been the target of the ZANU-PF police state machine, one finds that they are overwhelmingly the blacks of Zimbabwe, particularly the urban blacks and those in rural areas who have dared to express opposition. All the reports overwhelmingly show that to be the case. As far as I know, the SADC parliamentary forum is almost exclusively black—it has condoned the outcome of the elections—and, like the Commonwealth itself, the Commonwealth observers group is multi-racial and is led by a Nigerian.

We will continue to do all that we can to support everybody in Zimbabwe who has at their heart the universal principles of democracy and of free and fair elections.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): The Foreign Secretary is aware, because I have told him, that when my father was the last governor of southern Rhodesia, I visited with him the polling stations on the first day of those remarkable elections, which were not perfect, when tens of thousands of people queued, as they have done in the past few days, to express for the first time their democratic wish. So much bright hope was vested for the future, only for it to be smashed to pieces in the last few days. The message that should go from this House to the people of Zimbabwe is that we feel for them in their great difficulty and in the grief that most of them will be suffering.

May I urge the Foreign Secretary to lobby vigorously, if he is entitled to do so, among the 54 members of the Commonwealth to ensure that the troika does its duty and that the spirit of those reports, which will have been gained with considerable difficulty, is honoured in the only proper decision that the troika could make?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for their tone. I recall our conversation, in which he recounted with great poignancy his experiences of being alongside his father when an entirely peaceful handover of power took place. Great hope was vested in Mugabe and many others, and there was a free and fair election, which led to an outcome that was not anticipated. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that bright hope has been smashed to pieces.

The hon. Gentleman asks me whether we shall lobby vigorously within the Commonwealth. Yes, we will. Given all the pressures on the observers, including subtle intimidation—European Union observers were refused admission—and some violence, it is remarkable that they have come out with such strident conclusions. Given those pressures, their conclusions should be treated with greater seriousness.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend made a sad statement, but one that came as no surprise to any of us who have watched events in Zimbabwe over recent years. There was an erosion of democracy in the elections and attacks on the freedom of the press and the judiciary.

14 Mar 2002 : Column 1039

Should we not be making it clear to people in Zimbabwe, especially to ZANU-PF members and supporters, that the solution lies in their hands? It is for them to wake up before it is too late and before they have destroyed democracy and freedom in their country. They need to change direction now.

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right to imply that there has been extraordinary short-sightedness, even for people in ZANU-PF. They will not secure a bright future for their country nor an economic recovery. Instead, by stealing the election, they will make the situation in Zimbabwe worse.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's robust words in condemning the farce of an election in Zimbabwe. Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to read the statement from the SADC parliamentary forum election observation mission, which indicated that even members of the mission were part of the targeted violence in the run-up to the elections?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is off to Barcelona, and that he will be discussing Zimbabwe in depth with our colleagues in the European Union. Will he tell the House whether he plans to contact the Heads of Government in the SADC region and to support the statement from the head of the SADC observer mission, who is calling for dialogue between the leaders of the SADC Governments and Mugabe, to try to arrive at some reconciliation or a new process that could lead to democracy in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: I have seen the SADC conclusions, and I am placing copies of them and those of the Commonwealth observers in the Library. We shall be in touch with relevant Heads of Government within the SADC region. One of the reasons why the SADC conclusions are so powerful is that they come not from Government representatives but from parliamentary representatives.

Next Section

IndexHome Page