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8.48 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I will not attempt to emulate the length of the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), every word of it read, and bearing all the hallmarks of a Government handout. However, we can completely associate ourselves with his remarks about his constituent, Mr. Donnelly, who has served with enormous distinction. What has been said about him recently is disgraceful, and on that subject the hon. Gentleman carries the House with him.

I feel extremely embarrassed when I stand to speak in this debate tonight in an almost empty Chamber. I think of those people who voted in the March election by a majority to rid themselves of a tyrant. What would they think if they were here tonight in this Parliament and saw the numbers of people in the Chamber debating their future? It behoves each one of us to reflect on that and to say something about it to those who are not here.

I am always delighted to see the Secretary of State for International Development on the Front Bench. She knows that I hold her in high regard and we have campaigned together in the past on issues such as Bosnia. I shall always be pleased and proud that we did so. However, I say to her that it is a pity that the Foreign Secretary made his speech and then left the Chamber. It is important that a degree of urgency and importance, currently not apparent, be attached to this grave crisis.

I have an apology to make on behalf of the other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is looking into the subject of Zimbabwe. Because of a meeting of the Commission of the House of Commons, I could not go with them on a visit to Copenhagen—but for which they would have been here. I will try, somewhat inadequately, to speak on their behalf. The Foreign Affairs Committee has maintained a degree of bipartisanship on all issues of foreign policy, which we should always seek to do. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) was right to say that although there was a difference in tone and rhetoric between the parties—and I understand why my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said what he did in his admirable speech—there is not much difference between the two parties on the Front Benches. We certainly share an abhorrence for this distasteful, tyrannical and appalling regime.

I have an interest to declare, as editor of The House Magazine. I commend to all right hon. and hon. Members a letter that we published this week from Dr. Alan Megahey. I published it because I know him well. He is an old friend of mine—we were schoolmasters together, nearly 40 years ago. Dr. Megahey was for 10 years the

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rector or headmaster of Peterhouse, which is one of the great schools of Zimbabwe—multi-racial, I hasten to add. He has an intimate knowledge of the country and since he came back—he is now a country parson as well as a scholar—he has maintained his contacts.

Dr. Megahey wrote a letter to the magazine which I was glad to publish and from which I would like to quote. He says that four years ago he wrote a biography of the great Humphrey Gibbs, the man who stood up against Ian Smith. In that biography was a foreword by one Robert Mugabe, extolling Humphrey Gibbs and describing him as


My friend Alan Megahey continues:

I make no criticism of the Secretary of State but would simply say something, through her, to the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has made much of his role as international statesman, and in many of the things that he has done and said he has had my total and unqualified support. The way in which he behaved after 11 September last year was exemplary; he behaved as a true Prime Minister of a country facing a crisis. His role in helping to bring about the international coalition will earn him a special place in the history books. However, a Prime Minister who subsequently made the speech that he made to his party conference last year—already quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes—should devote a higher priority to the people of Zimbabwe, and I hope that after tonight's debate he will. In a moment I will make some specific and, I hope, helpful suggestions. However, it behoves the Prime Minister and his Government to attach an importance to this issue that they have not hitherto.

In his letter, Alan Megahey talks about a report by the Commercial Farmers Union. He refers to the list that it has published of those who have "acquired" farms, which I referred to earlier today at Question Time. He says:

I will not weary the House with it, but I have here a list of people, which runs to several pages. They are all people of eminence in Zimbabwe—not the downtrodden and deprived, who indeed deserve to be the beneficiaries of land reform—they are the fat cats of a society that is being absolutely crippled by the corruption of its leaders. It is important that we put that on record.

I do not want to talk for too long about the tactics of the people who go on to those farms, but I offer an example sent to me by Dr. Megahey. He told me of a farm built up over a lifetime's work; the people were forced out and the farmer said that, on the first day of the invasion,

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The list goes on. Those were not white people being hit by those who were fighting back against the colonial oppressors—they were black farm workers who depended for their livelihood on someone whom one might describe as paternalistic; but that farmer was a good and concerned employer and they wanted to stay with him.

Such events have been occurring in place after place throughout that beautiful country. As has already been said, what used to be the granary of southern Africa is becoming a wasteland, despoiled by those who rule it.

It is not only farming that has been affected; my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes referred to the tourism industry. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country where most of us would love to take our holidays, but how many tourists are queueing up to visit the Victoria falls as I speak?

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Like many Conservative speakers, including the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the hon. Gentleman sheds great heat on the issue but very little light on any solutions they would make, if in government, which the Labour Government have not already proposed. Today, we saw a display from the right hon. Member for Devizes that showed no way forward whatever.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sorry that I gave way for that rather pointless intervention. I am not generating a lot of heat; I am reasonably calmly retailing some of the facts in the documents before me, because they should be on the record of the House. In a moment, I shall come to what we would do, but perhaps I could be allowed to say one or two more things.

The tourism industry has been almost destroyed. Wildlife is in danger. On another level, as my friend Dr. Megahey points out,

The end of my friend's letter is an answer to the hon. Gentleman:

Certainly, it is right that Parliament should be informed and that we should address those things. What are we going to do about them? As I said, I hope that the Government will invest the situation with a new sense of urgency. Of course I accept that there cannot be crude military intervention. That is not practical.

The House will recall that the BBC is banned from Zimbabwe. When the notable reporter, Mr. Fergal Keane, came before the Foreign Affairs Committee recently, he made it plain that, in his view, we were not attaching a high enough priority to the situation. We should be stepping up broadcasts to people in Zimbabwe, to let them know just how appalling we think Mugabe is and what a terrible tyrant he is.

The Foreign Secretary should go to South Africa and hold urgent consultations before 22 July, which is a month away. We should not wait until then; the right hon. Gentleman should get on a plane this weekend and go to speak to President Mbeki. He should also go and see former President Mandela.

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I understood why the Secretary of State for International Development had her reservations when my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) made his suggestion, but another name has not been brought into play. It is that of a man who did have a good rapport with Robert Mugabe, a man for whom I have enormous affection and respect—the former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, who is now in very active retirement. He is president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and he is often in London. I believe that he is one person who might, just possibly, be able to talk some sense to Mugabe. It is worth trying.

What we need is a sense of mission and purpose, and the British Government, as well going to South Africa, should convene an urgent conference on Zimbabwe. We should try to act as the catalyst to bring world opinion together in a way that we perhaps have not done at the moment. I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the Foreign Secretary's expressions of repugnance. He believes every word that he says—I mean that—but we need urgency. A few initiatives must be taken quickly. We should not wait until 22 July—two days before the House rises for the summer recess—and we should have at least one report from the Foreign Secretary on what his initiatives have achieved before then. I urge the right hon. Lady to talk to him about that.

If the Foreign Secretary is so committed to other international travel—as the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who is a Parliamentary Private Secretary, seemed to indicate—another senior Minister should be deputed to deal with this issue. It is a crisis of monumental significance. By the end of this year, half the population of 13 million will be in danger of starvation. The right hon. Lady is nodding; she knows that to be true. We have seen the most callous and appalling manipulation of an election in recent years. Mr. Mugabe has put himself in the same league as Milosevic and Saddam Hussein by the way in which he has acted. That is the sort of man we are dealing with.

The Government have set great store by supporting the International Criminal Court. I happen to be one of those who has some sympathy with the reservations that the Americans have on that. Nevertheless, the Government and the House have approved it, so let the Government say that this is the sort of man who should be indicted before the court and let the people of Zimbabwe be told that. Let us give what moral support we can to those brave people who queued day after day to cast their votes; and a majority of them almost certainly voted against the tyrant.

It is sad that more hon. Members are not present in the House tonight, but I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes for proposing this subject for debate. I think that the debate should have taken place in Government time, but I shall let that pass—we are debating it—and let us draw comfort from the fact that there is very little difference between those on the two Front Benches and that not a single hon. Member could defend Mugabe's actions with any credibility.

So let us move forward with greater speed and a greater sense of urgency. Let us take some of these diplomatic initiatives immediately. Let us try to enlist the services of people such as Emeka Anyaoku. Let us do everything that we can to ensure that, before the House rises on 24 July,

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we have heard a positive report from the Foreign Secretary, standing at the Dispatch Box and reporting on progress achieved.

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