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House of Commons

Tuesday 23 July 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


HSBC Investment Banking Bill [Lords]

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Tuesday 15 October.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What recent discussions he has had with his South African counterpart regarding the situation in Zimbabwe. [69576]

2. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): If he will make a statement on the impact of smart sanctions on Zimbabwe. [69578]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I met South African Foreign Minister Zuma on 20 June. We discussed a range of issues, including Zimbabwe.

The situation in Zimbabwe is serious and deteriorating, with many facing severe poverty, hardship and starvation. The principal cause is not the drought, but the policies of the Mugabe regime. Despicably, the regime is now actively diverting humanitarian food aid, with the deputy Foreign Minister telling the public that it will go only to ZANU-PF supporters.

Sanctions are having an impact. Yesterday, EU Foreign Ministers agreed unanimously to more than triple the number targeted by the assets and travel ban to 72, to cover the whole of the ruling elite.

Mr. Swayne: The extension of smart sanctions is long overdue and most welcome, but how are they to be enforced? Is there any possibility of extending the net to catch businesses that support Mugabe?

Mr. Straw: Enforcement of the sanctions is in the hands of EU member states. We have no evidence at all of any breach of the sanctions. There is a provision in the common position—this may have been implicit in the hon. Gentleman's question—for members of the ZANU-PF elite who have to attend certain international

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gatherings. EU member states have no real discretion over that, any more than the United States has discretion over their attendance at the United Nations. However, the system is working. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the measure, and we will certainly consider its extension.

Mr. Bellingham: Members of the ruling elite are still transiting through Europe; for example, Mugabe transited through Madrid the other day. Has the Foreign Secretary looked again at my suggestion of a ban on Air Zimbabwe flights? With the Commonwealth games coming up, has he looked at a sporting boycott? Has he spoken to the International Cricket Council about the forthcoming World cup cricket tournament in South Africa and Zimbabwe? I welcome yesterday's EU announcement, but surely it is too little, too late.

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, on the efforts that he made in going to Zimbabwe the other day? Will the Foreign Secretary go there himself to convey these very tough messages?

Mr. Straw: It would not be appropriate to ban Air Zimbabwe, as it would significantly inconvenience thousands of decent people from Zimbabwe—black, white and Asian—and would lead to immediate retaliation against other carriers. We would need to think carefully about that.

Spain has refused transit visas to the Mugabe regime. The result is that, quite properly, members of the regime have been humiliated and inconvenienced by having to wait to change planes in Madrid airport, rather than being allowed into Madrid. There are international obligations that we cannot avoid, but the very fact that the Mugabe regime is making such efforts to try to get around the sanctions emphasises their effectiveness and the degree to which they are leading to the regime's isolation.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) visited Zimbabwe. He was able to enter incognito and, much though I would wish to do likewise, I am told by my security people that it might be a tad more difficult for me.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the EU's common position on Zimbabwe, with the stepping up of sanctions against Zimbabwe, is a vindication of this Government's constructive engagement with Europe? Will he make sure that, through the Convention on the Future of Europe, the EU's common foreign and security policy is strengthened? Does he agree that it is in this country's interests, as we see in the case of Zimbabwe, if the EU can punch its weight in the world?

Mr. Straw: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. A year ago, the clear aim of the Mugabe regime was to do its best to keep this as a bilateral dispute between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. As a result of action that we have been able to take, the dispute has been multilateralised to the Commonwealth and the EU.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): We understand why the travel ban cannot be applied when

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President Mugabe or one of his Ministers is attending a United Nations function, but is there any reason why that latitude should be extended to his entourage of staff, bodyguards and flunkeys? Would not a ban on them deter some of the flights that are being taken?

Mr. Straw: We must act proportionately. We have now trebled the number of people subject to the ban, resulting in a list of 72, which we judge to include virtually the whole of the ruling elite of ZANU-PF. We shall certainly consider extending the ban to business men, where there is clear evidence that that would be appropriate. It is important, however, in terms of there being understanding across Africa, that it is recognised that we are acting in a proportionate and targeted way, not in an indiscriminate way.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to the post-Lockerbie sanctions on Libya? He will recall that there was a total ban on air flights to that country. Is that not a model for what we should be considering for Zimbabwe? After all, in the case of Libya, innocent people were affected by the ban.

Mr. Straw: It is a matter of proportion, but the simple fact is that, if we were to impose a ban on Air Zimbabwe flights, it would lead to a ban on flights by British and European carriers, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise. That would gravely inconvenience thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans, including 40,000 UK passport holders. These are issues that we must weigh in the balance, but my judgment is that this would hurt innocent people more than it would hurt the regime.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and I were in Zimbabwe last Wednesday. Is the Foreign Secretary aware—as I was made aware when I was there—of the obscenity of growing famine, starvation and AIDS existing alongside acre after acre of farm land that is unprepared, unsown and not producing food? Does he also understand the obscenity of displaced black farm workers, some of whom I met, who have been thrown off their farms without hope, jobs, possessions or homes? There are now 85,000 of them, and, if the 2,900 farms are closed in two weeks' time, the number could rise to 300,000. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the despair of people in Zimbabwe is only increased when they hear reports—I hope that they were incorrect—that, while I was in Zimbabwe, he was saying that he could do nothing to help them? Will he now assure us that he can, and will, seek to help them?

Mr. Straw: I was indeed aware of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say, because I am an assiduous reader of the Conservative party website. I have therefore followed exactly what he has said, and his analysis is entirely correct. Zimbabwe under Mugabe is now the worst-performing economy in the whole of Africa, which is an extraordinary record, given that only a few years ago it was the best-performing economy. GDP is likely to have collapsed by a quarter in three years, the inflation rate is 122 per cent. and rising, and the unemployment rate is 70 per cent. and rising. We are profoundly concerned about the situation, as the right hon. Gentleman

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knows. We have been doing everything we think we practically can, but we are always ready to listen carefully to specific proposals for further action, including those from him.

Mr. Ancram: I will take the right hon. Gentleman up on that offer. Will he hold discussions, as I did last week, with his colleagues in South Africa and Malawi on the catastrophe that is about to spill over into those countries if Zimbabwe implodes? They are already feeling the effects of what is happening there. Does he not agree that a humanitarian disaster in southern Africa will affect us all, and that, if it happens, we will all be called on to help to end it? Given that we all have an interest in avoiding such disasters, will he seek to persuade our southern African colleagues that acting jointly to bring pressure to bear on Mugabe to hold fresh elections is in all our interests, but, above all, in the interests of the people who are suffering so badly in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: The answer to all those questions is yes. On humanitarian aid, yes, there is a catastrophe, which is partly being caused by drought, but which has been greatly exacerbated in Zimbabwe and the surrounding areas by the actions of the Mugabe Government. Yes, we need collective discussions with the Southern African Development Community, and they will take place at EU level. I am glad to note that the right hon. Gentleman has endorsed that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has already allocated an extra £45 million of aid directly to Zimbabwe, as well as other amounts to the other countries of southern Africa to help cope with this crisis.

Mr. Ancram: On the European Union, may I belatedly welcome the extension of the sanctions that was announced yesterday, six weeks after I first called for it? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the previous sanctions in Zimbabwe were regarded as ineffective and a joke? Why did yesterday's extension not go further? Why are not spouses and families included? Why does the list—unlike that of the United States—not include the close business associates who sustain and finance Mugabe and his henchmen?

Does the Foreign Secretary not understand that yesterday's announcement goes only part of the way? This time, the sanctions must be more than just words. The loopholes must be closed, and the sanctions must be made to bite until Mugabe is forced to realise the reality of the situation, and to call for the fresh elections without which this problem cannot be solved.

Mr. Straw: Those of us with reasonably long memories will be only too delighted to note the right hon. Gentleman's conversion to the principle of sanctions. If the Conservatives had supported sanctions against South Africa, the evil of apartheid might have been ended a bit more quickly.

We are working on this issue, and one spouse was included on yesterday's list—Mrs. Grace Mugabe. On proportionality, we have judged it important to target the serious and real villains—the principals in the elite—rather than being dragged into diversionary arguments about whether it is also appropriate to target spouses and

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children. We are ready to consider the question of businesses, but I should point out that, so far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, there is always a great gap between the word and the deed. The biggest difference is that he calls for these sanctions—

Mr. Ancram: And the Americans.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman mutters about the Americans, but our total package of sanctions is tougher than theirs. He calls for these sanctions, but the one certainty is that, had he been in my position, he would never have achieved these sanctions because he would never have had the EU on his side.

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