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Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with that question in response to the next question. [Interruption.] No, I am not trying to dodge the question. Members in all parts of the House know about the work that I have been trying to do, in my ministerial role, on Zimbabwe. Importantly, we raised the subject of Zimbabwe last week at the Human Rights Council. We raise it each and every day both in this country with the Zimbabwean Government and in post in South Africa, as well as in Zimbabwe itself. It is essential that the international community, and our colleagues in South Africa in particular, take responsibility for the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. This Government are fully committed to a system that ensures that the citizens of Zimbabwe are able to move towards a democracy. In the meantime, it is important to deal with the humanitarian crisis there and the inability of civilians to perform the duty of representing their interests in Zimbabwe. I have no
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doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will say more about that in her response to the next question.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the international community has adopted the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, but that genocidal violence continues apace in Darfur, that savage human rights abuses are a daily fact of life in Zimbabwe, and that the bestial military junta in Burma continues to torture—all of which happens with impunity in respect of the United Nations—can the right hon. Gentleman, whose commitment I do not doubt, offer the House his best guesstimate as to the year or decade in which the noble aspiration to protect will be translated into effective practice?

Mr. McCartney: On one level, the hon. Gentleman was being very kind; on another, he asked me a question to which he knows I cannot give an honest answer, in a sense. I wish that I could say that, next week, the Justice Minister in Darfur will take the steps necessary to end the violence there, but I cannot. I wish that I could say that the Burmese junta will immediately release all political prisoners. I wish that I could say that North Koreans will open up their society in the way that they need to do. The point is not to give up on human rights, which is a long-term strategic issue. The big thing for me since I got this job—out of interest, I point out that I am the most partisan politician in the House that anyone could wish to meet—is that we are developing a common purpose and approach on many of these issues, which is critical. The newly formed Human Rights Council gives us the first opportunity in 25 years to have a serious dialogue with those states about ending their human rights abuses. Britain is, and will continue to be, in the forefront in that regard.


4. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What steps she is taking to address the political situation in Zimbabwe. [128291]

6. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): If she will make a statement on the political situation in Zimbabwe. [128293]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): It is evident that the severe economic and humanitarian crisis now facing ordinary Zimbabweans is entirely the fault of the misguided policies of President Mugabe and his Government. With the international community, we are pressing him and others in his Government to reverse course and to end human rights abuses and political violence, to stop gross economic mismanagement, and to take the necessary steps to lead Zimbabwe to a better future.

Mr. Hollobone: Under the evil, violent and increasingly despotic regime of Robert Mugabe, thousands of the citizens of Zimbabwe, which was once the bread basket of southern Africa, are dying of malnutrition and disease every month, and average life expectancy has fallen to just 38. What hope can
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the Foreign Secretary offer to Morgan Tsvangirai and others who would lead a free and democratic Zimbabwe that Robert Mugabe’s regime is under the intense scrutiny of Britain, the Commonwealth and the international community, and that something effective will be done in the very near future to ensure that that regime comes to an end?

Margaret Beckett: I simply say that, of course, there is considerable concern across the international community and the hon. Gentleman is right to identify it. It is important to make it clear, particularly in this House, that, yes, the United Kingdom is greatly concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, but that those concerns are shared by the whole European Union, by the African Union—sadly, those concerns have not always been expressed as loudly as they might be—by the United Nations and by the whole international community. It is very important that we recognise that this is not a bilateral dispute between Britain and Zimbabwe; this is about the whole international community expressing concern about a very dangerous and deteriorating human rights situation. We will keep up the pressure through all those bodies.

Mr. Robathan: It is difficult to understand why the Government have been so dilatory and slothful over half a dozen years in showing leadership and taking firm diplomatic action against Zimbabwe. Can the Secretary of State say specifically why John Bredenkamp, close family members of the regime and other members of it are not on the travel ban and do not have personal sanctions against them? Why is food aid still allowed to be used as a tool of manipulation by the Zimbabwean Government? Has Robert Mugabe been relieved of his honorary knighthood? I have yet to discover whether he has, but I hope so.

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman asked what we do to prevent food aid being used as a tool. Of course, we make absolutely sure that the food aid and other aid that we send is channelled through the United Nations or, on occasion, through non-governmental organisations, and that it does not go through—

Mr. Robathan: It is used as a tool.

Margaret Beckett: Of course food aid that goes to Zimbabwe is used as a tool, but not UK-funded food aid, which is what I am responsible for. We have to deal with the reality. I understand and share the hon. Gentleman’s anger and distress at the situation in Zimbabwe, but to pretend that Britain alone can somehow wave a magic wand and bring about an end to this tragic situation is clearly entirely wrong. We do everything that we can. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that President Mugabe still retains his honorary knighthood. The hon. Gentleman may wish to give him further publicity by making that the focus of attention, but I have more concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe than for whether or not Robert Mugabe has an honour to which he is not entitled.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Most fair-minded people would accept that Britain is doing all that it possibly can to draw attention on the
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international scene to what is happening in that unhappy country. Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us are very disappointed that South Africa has not recognised the tremendous harm being caused by Mugabe—an outright gangster clinging on to power—and would it therefore be useful if South Africa did what is necessary to help the people in Zimbabwe?

Margaret Beckett: As I said in response to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), we continue to discuss the issue and exert pressure through the various international bodies, including the African Union. There have been discussions in recent days with the president of the African Union and the president of the Southern African Development Community, who are also anxious about the situation in Africa. We are urging that we should use the opportunity identified by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade of the new Human Rights Council to focus discussion on the worrying and deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. Of course, we seek discussion and support from African countries, including South Africa, in endeavouring to do that, because of the belief that the HRC is the right place to take those discussions forward.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I pay tribute to the work that the Minister for Trade has done on this issue over the past few months. Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that the rather measly words of South Africa on this issue are of real concern, especially in comparison with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has strongly condemned what is happening in Zimbabwe? Does she also agree that the G8 summit to be hosted by Germany in two months’ time will be an opportunity to say straightforwardly to South Africa that if it wishes to take the lead in leading southern Africa into democracy, it has to speak out and declare absolutely that what Mugabe is doing will not be allowed to continue?

Margaret Beckett: I am aware of the honourable and strong stance taken over a considerable period of time by COSATU, which has long been active and vocal on this issue. My hon. Friend refers to the opportunity to discuss the matter at the G8 and I can assure her that if the position remains as it is, it is likely that some discussion will arise in that context. However, as I hope I indicated a moment ago, we do not intend to wait for that summit before discussing those issues. I have discussed them this week with my South African counterpart and we are endeavouring to get a head of steam behind a discussion in the UN Human Rights Council in the very near future.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary explain the Government’s attitude to ethnic cleansing, murder, tyranny and oppression in Zimbabwe over the past eight years compared with their attitude to similar outrages in the Balkans? Why is it, as hinted by Morgan Tsvangirai over the weekend, that this Government have consistently walked by on the other side in respect of Zimbabwe?

Margaret Beckett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that we condemn ethnic cleansing and endeavour to resist it wherever it occurs,
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not least in the Balkans, perhaps in contrast—if I may say so—to what sometimes happened under our predecessors. I also remind him that although I have seen reports in certain sections of the British news media, I have not seen any attribution to Morgan Tsvangirai of the words that the right hon. and learned Gentleman used about the British Government walking by on the other side. I have seen reports of statements by Morgan Tsvangirai that suggested that the British Government had not done enough. I have also seen reports of a full statement made by him live on television, in which he said in terms:

He said that Britain should act together with the international community, the African Union and so on. Why only the part of his concern that suggested that he would like to see the British Government do more—which I completely understand—was reported in some organs of the media is outside my competence.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. It seems to me that there is a fine line between taking clear action against Zimbabwe’s despotic regime and stirring up a response that could lead to Britain’s role being misunderstood. Does she agree that our opposition to Mugabe’s regime must be clear, and that we should act with our EU neighbours to put pressure on the African Union to ensure that a united effort is made?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend speaks very wisely, if I may say so. Successive Foreign Secretaries in this Government have been guided by three concerns when dealing with Zimbabwe. First, we have given priority to the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, and we have done everything in our power—in ways that the Government of Zimbabwe could not manipulate—to help, support and aid them, not least through direct food aid, and so on. Secondly, we have always acted in ways that would promote reform and genuine democratic dialogue in Zimbabwe, although we have been careful not to give Mugabe an excuse to act against those in Zimbabwe who are prepared to stand up to him publicly, as that would be to put them at further risk. We have always tried to be guided by what those people have said was the balance to be struck between supporting them and not putting them at risk.

Thirdly, the Government have been guided consistently by the fact that Mugabe has always used any stance taken by the UK as an excuse to stir up support among people elsewhere in Africa—and I suspect that this may be one of the reasons other African Governments stay their hands in respect of Zimbabwe—for claims that the dispute is between the old colonial power that wants to take back power and to interfere with Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe’s heroic revolutionary Government. Sadly, those claims have much too much resonance in Africa. That is why we have always tried to make sure that we deprive Mugabe of that excuse, while remaining strong in condemnation of his actions.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I lived and worked in Zimbabwe for almost two years, and I share Members’ expressions of concern. The Foreign Secretary has said that she wants to
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achieve more effective sanctions, but will she consider encouraging an urgent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government to try to promote a high-level visit to Zimbabwe, preferably under President Thabo Mbeki? He could make it clear to Mr. Mugabe that the only final service that he can make to the welfare of his country is to resign as soon as possible.

Margaret Beckett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman draws on his own experience to make an interesting suggestion, and I shall certainly give it consideration. However, the precedents are not very encouraging, as he will know. It is true that President Kikwete of Tanzania was able to go to Zimbabwe during the week, on behalf of SADC, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that it is not so long ago that the UN Secretary-General sought to visit Zimbabwe to express exactly the concerns that have been expressed here today, yet was not permitted to do so.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of newspaper reports today that 3,000 militia might be sent from Angola to Zimbabwe support Mugabe’s repressive regime. Will she comment on the truth or otherwise of that story? If it is true, will she make it clear to Angola’s representatives—and to those of any other country wanting to act in a similar way—that they would be treading on very dangerous ground?

Margaret Beckett: I can tell my hon. Friend that, like him, I have heard those rumours this morning. As yet, I have heard nothing to substantiate them or to clarify the purpose of such activity. However, I assure my hon. Friend that that will be one of concerns that we will be pursuing over the coming days.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether visas issued to a Zimbabwean delegation attending an EU meeting in Brussels today included an individual banned by the EU from travel to Europe for serious violations of human rights, even though in the past few days the Mugabe regime has violently prevented opposition figures from leaving Zimbabwe to attend the very same Brussels meeting?

Margaret Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely pertinent and powerful point. It is my understanding that one of those who travelled to the meeting in Brussels was indeed on the banned list, but that his visa was issued in error by—I believe —the Belgian Government. There has been some suggestion—I do not know whether it is a misunderstanding—that an NGO suggested that one of those people travelled through London, so I take this opportunity to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the British Government have issued no such visa.

Mr. Hague: We welcome the news that there was an error, but such errors, as well as admitting a Zimbabwean delegation at a time when opposition figures are being beaten senseless at the airport, suggest that the EU cannot muster the consistency and courage even to enforce the measures on Zimbabwe on which it has already agreed. Is not it time for the EU to agree
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and enforce additional asset freezes and visa bans on members of the Mugabe regime, and to make it clear that anyone on the EU sanctions list should be excluded from attending the EU-AU summit in Portugal later this year? Otherwise, the summit will become an immense embarrassment for Europe and give Zimbabweans the impression that Mugabe is still welcome overseas.

Margaret Beckett: I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. The Government of Belgium have apologised for the error and withdrawn the visa. I also share his concern that we should consider additional asset freezes, visa bans and so on, and the extension thereof. It is certainly something we shall be pushing with our EU colleagues in the days to come.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): The House is united in its condemnation of the brutality of the Mugabe regime and in its tribute to the bravery of Morgan Tsvangirai and countless others who refuse to be cowed by the oppression of Zimbabwe’s thugs. We certainly support the tightening of existing sanctions from Europe and the contemplation of new ones, as has just been discussed.

Returning to the subject of South Africa, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that South Africa rebuffed British attempts to have recent events discussed at the UN? For all the difficulties with diplomatic conventions, does she agree that when Britain takes the chair at the Security Council it ought to ensure that there is a debate on Zimbabwe and, if necessary, embarrass countries in Africa and elsewhere that would object to it?

Margaret Beckett: I have not had a chance to have the report checked, but I have seen the suggestion that the South African Government impeded discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council. However, part of my conversation with the South African Foreign Minister was that the proper place for such discussion was, initially, in the new Human Rights Council. We share that view. There may be a time for the matter to come to the Security Council, but the Human Rights Council is the right place for discussion now. Before coming to the Chamber I did not have a chance further to explore the stance taken by South Africa, but I believe that it is not necessarily inconsistent with the wish to see the matter pursued in the Human Rights Council.


5. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What recent assessment she has made of the political situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories; and if she will make a statement. [128292]

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