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I wish to address a crisis in which the UK’s historical position means that we could play a special role. Indeed, we have a right to play a special role in Zimbabwe. I apologise for not being in my place earlier in the debate, but I was chairing the all-party group on Zimbabwe, at which we had the immense privilege of listening to Archbishop Pius Ncube, the very brave
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Roman Catholic archbishop from Bulawayo, who has repeatedly stood out against Mugabe and the political oppression in his country.

Until now, the Government have preferred to play a behind the scenes role in dealing with the crisis in Zimbabwe, and Ministers have been anxious—perhaps understandably—to avoid playing to Mugabe’s propaganda scripts, which portray the Zimbabwe crisis as a bilateral post-colonial dispute. That has to change, and soon.

The socio-economic position in Zimbabwe has never before been so bad. The country’s inflation rate is almost 2,000 per cent., the highest in the world. The economy has declined at a rate unprecedented in a nation that is supposedly at peace. It is the fastest declining economy in the world. The GDP has shrunk by more than 40 per cent. in the past six years. Such an economic collapse has never happened before in a nation that is not at war.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV infection rates on earth, with more than 24 per cent. of the population infected, while pathetically small amounts are spent on antiretroviral drugs by a Government who have been more concerned to import military aircraft from China than to protect the lives of their people.

By the end of this year, there will not be enough grain to feed the nation, although Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of southern Africa. There is no sign of economic recovery, with the Zimbabwean Government threatening to seize 51 per cent. ownership of all mines in the country. The lack of security of any kind of ownership is hardly likely to encourage the foreign investment needed to reindustrialise Zimbabwe.

Just a few weeks ago I visited for the third time and I saw for myself the hunger, illness and desperation stalking the country. The cemeteries are filling up, but no blood is being spilled. People are just fading away, dying quietly and being buried quietly with no fanfare and no international media attention. Each week an estimated 3,500 Zimbabweans die from a unique convergence of malnutrition, poverty and AIDS. The figures suggest that, far from the media spotlight—no BBC cameras allowed in—more people die in Zimbabwe each week than in either, in the past, Darfur or Iraq. Those deaths are largely preventable, but without significant intervention the situation threatens to develop into a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions.

The Zimbabwean Government continue deliberately to underplay the extent of the malnutrition crisis for political reasons, using food as a political weapon, most recently in the rural elections. The World Health Organisation’s figures, released earlier this year, put life expectancy in Zimbabwe as the lowest in the world—34 for women and 37 for men. Despite attracting little media attention, those figures, which relate to 2004, show the gravity of the situation.

Recently, there has been a crackdown on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and I met many of the trade unionists who have been beaten up. Those brave trade unionists are fighting hard to get their voices heard and for the rights and basic democracy that we take for granted.

One of the things that this country can do is try to change international perception of what is happening
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in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is not stupid. He is a clever operator and he has manipulated world opinion, especially in the African region. He has also played on our memories of past struggles to paralyse progressive opinion that should be expressing outrage at what he is doing. It should be as unacceptable to defend Robert Mugabe today as it was in the past to defend Pinochet of Chile or Idi Amin of Uganda. Our Government cannot expect sustainable development in Africa until we find ways of preventing the plunder of its economies and the destruction of its natural and human resources by rogue leaders. Persuading regional leaders that they must engage in finding a way to end the crisis in Zimbabwe is basic to the future well-being of the entire Government there.

The Government have a real opportunity to support the recent moves towards a resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe by promoting the initiative from within the Southern African Development Community region. The recent decision of the new chairman of SADC, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, to dispatch a ministerial action group to Harare has evoked furious reactions from the ruling ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. Lesotho’s decision to put Zimbabwe high on the SADC agenda shows an acceptance, at last, that the crisis there is undermining the economies of the region and peace there. I understand that that indictment of Mugabe’s regime at last has the blessing of the Governments of South Africa and Botswana. SADC countries are beginning to face up to the political realities of the crisis in Zimbabwe and accept regional responsibility for dealing with a member state that has long been in breach of its fundamental obligations as a member of that community.

I welcome the recent statements of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, both of whom are now prepared to speak out more clearly and unequivocally on Zimbabwe. I wish that Ministers in other EU countries would stop trying to undermine the targeted sanctions in their own national self-interests and without regard to the plight of the people of Zimbabwe. I hope that the British Government will do what they can to stop France from inviting Mugabe to the African conference in the new year. We must ensure that we support the efforts of those who carry on the struggle inside Zimbabwe—civil society, the Churches and the opposition. They need money and resources, and we have to find ways of ensuring that they get them.

Mugabe’s final term is due to end in March 2008, but there are already moves afoot to extend it to 2010. He is terrified of ending up in a cell in The Hague like Charles Taylor of Liberia. If the opposition in Zimbabwe are prepared to say that one man cannot be allowed to stand in the way of ending the suffering of an entire nation, we could accept that. Offering a way out for Mugabe and, perhaps, other figures in the ruling party could form part of negotiations on a transitional process. That process has to pave the way for a new constitution and genuinely free elections so that the people of Zimbabwe can start to rebuild their country and its institutions under a democratic Government.

Many hon. Members might think that compared with other emergencies around the world, the situation
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in Zimbabwe is a relatively unimportant problem. In fact it is relatively straightforward, but it requires leadership and political will. The people of Zimbabwe would welcome any serious initiative with enthusiasm. That would not require military involvement from our already overstretched armed forces. With the help of allies in Africa, a solution is possible.

Conditions in Zimbabwe have not got any better; they are getting worse. The brutality of the regime has not declined. It is prepared to disregard all civilised standards when it comes to suppressing expressions of dissent from trade unions, churches or civilians. However, during my visit there I saw that there is a unity of purpose. A cohesive opposition alliance has emerged between trade unions, civil society and the opposition, who are planning together for the future. That gives me grounds for optimism.

There is no point in devoting tens of millions of pounds of my poor constituents’ money from DFID’s budget to food aid and efforts that will at best ameliorate and at worst camouflage the impact of ZANU-PF’s wanton mismanagement if ways of funding the organisations that make up the mainstream opposition cannot be found. The Prime Minister is not going to get his legacy in Iraq; if he wants a real legacy, he should spend the next six months going around the African countries and really working. He could end up getting a solution to the problems in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabweans and the world want that, and it would give the Prime Minister his legacy.

4.39 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): This has been a quite exceptional debate. After the opening speeches, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) gave us an example of a former Defence Minister quietly dissociating himself from the policy that he supported when he was in office. That was done very gently, as is his style.

As far as I can see, there are no supporters of the Government’s approach, or people who are willing to defend them. Indeed, I think that the Government realise that we are in a pretty pass as a result of the foreign policy that we have followed since 1997.

I entirely agree with the analysis made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I have heard a few speeches by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) in my time—as many as four or five a day in 1997, when I was on regional tours, trying to support the beleaguered Conservative troops in the countryside. Today’s speech, however, was a real tour de force, and I have rarely heard him speak better. It was a pity that during that speech, the Minister for Europe—the former Defence Secretary and the four-hour Secretary of State for Europe—was grimacing and making faces on the Government Front Bench. He does not even answer questions on Europe during Foreign Office questions. Instead, he is reduced to doing his duty of manning the Front Bench.

The Minister for Europe grimaced when my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out the consequences of the failure of our policy, but in Kosovo, our policy had to be rescued by the Russians. In Iraq, we now
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look to the Syrians and Iranians to help us to get out of our position. In Afghanistan, we have managed it so that platoon positions in the villages were freed up by what were, to all intents and purposes, negotiations with the Taliban. Those are the consequences of using hard power over the past decade. In the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), there were important lessons about the use of soft and hard power today, and later I shall return to his important message about Hamas and Hezbollah.

Imagine if the United States had not, historically, pursued a policy of hard power and isolation towards Cuba, but had instead pursued a policy of engagement. Is there the slightest chance that Cuba would still have the Government that it has today if it had not been isolated by the United States? The same applies to countries such as Syria and Iran. We need to try to engage with such countries, because a policy of isolation has had the unintended consequence of bringing about the ugly Governments that we hope will change in due course—a hope that is shared by the majority of people in those countries.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, gave an excellent analysis of Iraq, and he had something important to say about the need to deepen our cultural, social and educational links with the Arab world. I am co-chairman of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, together with the hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), and for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed). A few hon. Members present will, I hope, have heard of it, but sadly our activities are not on a large enough scale, and we are not resourced well enough. I have just been to Bahrain with the director of that organisation to explain that some of us in the United Kingdom Parliament are working towards a greater understanding of the Arab world.

Given the UK’s long history of involvement in the region, and her apparent depth of understanding of the area, our friends in Bahrain express bewilderment that the UK should have been party to the catastrophe in policy of the past 10 years. I have to point out to them that the UK’s deep experience and knowledge of the subject has largely gone. We heard terrific speeches from my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe, for Devizes and for Kensington and Chelsea, but it was the generation before them that had experience of the administration of many of the territories in the Gulf. For all of us in the House, that world has gone, and as my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary suggested, we must now work very hard to rebuild our understanding of a region in which there are many friends of the United Kingdom. We all need to appreciate that those links must be rebuilt. The UK’s reputation has suffered the most awful damage due to the Iraq imbroglio. It is time to put that right, with patience and humility, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech on the anniversary of 9/11. We have an enormous amount to re-learn.

Bahrain, which has strong links of friendship with the UK, is holding elections on Saturday 25 November,
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and is gradually and overtly progressing towards a constitutional monarchy. At various events during my visit, I talked to Bahraini ladies who were concerned about the consequences to them of the elections. Their values are liberal and western compared to most of the people of Bahrain and they are waiting with some apprehension to see what will happen on 25 November and what kind of lower House Bahrain will elect. We need to support such countries as they make tentative steps towards a more representative system for their people, but the effect of our policy has been to radicalise populations across the entire region.

I have talked about our friends, but what about movements whose values we do not share, such as Hamas and Hezbollah? We have to find a way of engaging with them. There can be no solution in Palestine without Hamas. There can be no settlement or stable Government in Lebanon without the participation of Hezbollah in some way. We must make it clear in every possible way that the path of violence is not sensible for them, and that it is catastrophic for their citizens and a disaster for us.

The challenge we face is to separate Hamas and Hezbollah and other movements rooted in national issues, such as the Chechen and Kashmiri resistance movements. We have to isolate those movements and analyse them according to the circumstances that have produced them. The real destructive enemy of our values is a cult—a sect called al-Qaeda—but we have created support for al-Qaeda, which is seen by British Pakistanis, for instance, as the exemplar for resisting the west and supporting Islamic values.

All our policy should be aimed at reducing the automatic support for al-Qaeda that is springing up inside our society. We must make clear precisely what the nature of that organisation is, which means that we must understand other conflicts, such as those in Palestine, Lebanon, Chechnya and Kashmir, and not simply roll them all together in our rhetoric, for example by using expressions such as “the axis of evil”. That is disastrous and produces the clash of civilisations. We must be extremely careful about how we describe people whose methods we deplore. We need to understand why Palestinians voted for Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. We need to understand why Hezbollah has such enormous support among Shi’a Muslims in southern Lebanon.

If we understand those things and take the opportunity to turn the board around—to see what the conflicts look like from the other side—and try to engage by all possible means with people whose values we may not agree with or support, we shall have a much better chance of producing a world for our children that is much more stable than the one they seem likely to face.

4.49 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I will start by talking about the issue that is at the heart of the Government’s foreign policy: Iraq. There is a shambles out there and death and destruction is unfolding. I was one of those who voted in 2003 against the war in Iraq. I have listened to the vilification of several of my colleagues as though they somehow did not support or back our troops, who are losing their lives and are
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paying the highest price for our foreign policy. That was brought home to me by the parents of the 100th solider who died in Iraq, who are my constituents. Although I have not been aware of any soldiers from my constituency who have died, their families have asked me what is happening out there. Such people deserve an inquiry. As several hon. Members have said, it is an outrage that although the Prime Minister will take part by video conference in an inquiry that is being held in the United States, he will not come to the House to explain exactly what is happening, what the plans have been up to now and what the plans are for the future.

The House voted to go to war in Iraq because of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence at that time was bad and many have said that the House was misled. Since that day, terrorism has grown in Iraq. At that time, there were those who believed that the regime should be changed. There is now no doubt that Iraq is a hotbed of terrorism, and exactly the same is happening in the Gaza strip.

When the Queen’s Speech was read in the other place, we heard that one of its key aspects was

Iran and North Korea want to join the club of countries that have weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons. This country has 1 per cent. of the total number of warheads. The USA and Russia have more than 10,000 warheads. It would be no bad thing if we continued to hold under our control a declining percentage of warheads. We have heard today about choices that have been made about resources. There are serious questions about the resources that are available to our armed forces: the Army, Navy and Air Force. Their resources will be further limited if a massive amount is spent on replacing the Trident missile system.

We have heard excellent speeches during the debate and a thread has run through them. I have been a Member for five years, and I was amazed that the speeches made by the right hon. and learned Members for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) were similar to those made by the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). This debate has been a unique occasion.

We have heard again and again about the chaos that is unfolding in Palestine, the occupied territories and the west bank. The subdivision of the west bank by the actions of the Israelis and the construction of the wall, the barrier, the ditches and the fences are separating community from neighbouring community, separating farmers from their farms, separating villages from their wells, and separating hospitals from their patients. The action, which is supported by the United States, might hold back a tide of hate behind the wall, but the risks are growing. We need to engage with all parties out there and ensure that the tension that is rising on both sides of the wall does not continue to increase. Ghettos are now being created in the west bank. Villages are being cut off and the economy is being destroyed.

With Christmas just around the corner, what is happening in Jerusalem and Bethlehem should be on
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all our minds. We are seeing there individuals who cannot carry on their everyday lives. The majority of the members of Hamas who were elected to Government are in prison, and the Israeli Government are chasing the rest of them to try to put them in prison. That is a complete disaster. Even those who oppose Hamas think that the policy being followed is a disaster, because they believe that although without that policy Hamas would not be delivering what it promised before the election, the fact that the Israeli Government are withholding $60 million to $65 million a month of revenue means that every disaster that unfolds can be blamed on others. Hamas is benefiting from the policies being followed by the Israeli Government, supported by the United States. As I mentioned, the Gaza strip is a breeding ground for al-Qaeda.

The third issue that I shall touch on is the environment. I welcome the inclusion of a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech, but we need action. A couple of Members said that we give the terrorists too much credibility. Terrorists thrive on publicity, but the greater threat to future generations is climate change. There must be a financial commitment from the Government. Less than £1 billion is spent on tackling climate change directly, but an estimated £4 billion could cut 12 million tonnes of carbon from domestic output, and £10 billion to £20 billion spent on renewable energy investment could cut emissions from power generation by a further 50 per cent. Investment on a massive scale is required, but the resources would be available if such huge sums were not invested in the replacement of the Trident missile system.

The issues are linked—the lack of support for our conventional troops, the forthcoming debate in the House on the replacement of the Trident system, and the troubles in the middle east—and all were mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. It is interesting that among the range of contributions to the debate, only one supported the Government’s position. That was in relation to their commitment to international development and the work of the Secretary of State for International Development. A number of Members in the Chamber have sat through the entire debate. There has been a lonely figure sitting on the Government Front Bench. One or two Members have joined the debate and may contribute later. Those who have spoken have, by and large, made it clear that the Government do not have a foreign policy. The Government’s policy is a disaster.

Mr. Tom Clarke: I think the hon. Gentleman was referring to me. I understood that most of the House supported the Government’s policy on international development, and until today I thought that that was the position of the hon. Gentleman as well. Will he allow me briefly to clarify my position on Iraq? I voted against the Government. I spoke against the Government. I find it rather confusing that the official Opposition seemed even more desperate to go in than the Government were at the time, but that does not seem to be the tone of their speeches today. I hope that helps the hon. Gentleman.

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