Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks of support from the nationalist parties, and I accept them in the spirit in which they were made. Contingency planning is at an early stage, and I do not want to give the impression that I have an all-singing, all-dancing plan. What I am trying to allude to is the fact that, as well as bearing in mind the diplomatic issues to do with the regime, it is important that we do
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1172
not simply wait until there is potential regime change, or indeed until there is a collapse, with all its consequences. We can already see the stresses and pressures on the front-line states around Zimbabwe as a result of migration and issues related to it. It is important that the international community, including the European Union, the United States and other large donors to Zimbabwe, think through what our contribution will be to assisting the transition to a democratic society and, with that, to preventing full-scale humanitarian disaster from occurring. That will be a huge effort.

For example, there are large numbers of elderly people in Zimbabwe, and given the collapse of the care system in Zimbabwe, what do we do to prevent those elderly people from becoming victims of any collapse? What do we do with young children, and what do we do in terms of restructuring, and in terms of those millions of people who have already left the country, and who need to return to be effective there? If they are to do so, a stable, incoming Government are needed. All those issues to do with contingency planning must be considered, as well as the issue of how the international community can best provide support for any new regime that takes over.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Home Secretary about the position of Zimbabwean citizens in this country? Last Friday at my surgery, three Zimbabwean citizens who had received letters from the Home Office asking that they be returned to Zimbabwe came to see me. They believe that they will be killed if they go back. Surely, now is the time, especially in view of my right hon. Friend’s statement, at which we should not return people to that dreadful country. Will he meet the Home Secretary to discuss that as a matter of urgency?

Mr. McCartney: There are no forced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe currently. Returns are suspended until the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Tribunal has made its judgment on a Court of Appeal case. We will continue to defer returns to Zimbabwe until that case is concluded, but we also continue to expect Zimbabweans who have no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and we encourage them to take advantage of the generous return and reintegration package. I do not have any details of my right hon. Friend’s case, but if he sends them to me, I will deal with it personally in the way in which he has asked me to do.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): There are some 5,000 pensioners living in Zimbabwe who are world war two veterans and veterans of service with the Crown. Many of them are well over the age of 85, and they are being kept alive by charity. If there is a collapse of government and energy supplies, they will be at risk not within days or weeks but almost within hours. In addition to the measures that the Minister discussed a moment ago about longer-term contingency plans, can he assure the House something will be put in place almost immediately, because a collapse could take place tomorrow or the next day, and people will be vulnerable immediately? Are there plans for immediate support for people who look to Britain for support now, as they gave service to Britain so long ago?

26 Mar 2007 : Column 1173

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman, again, both for his question and for the tenor of it. I alluded in a previous answer to the fact that a key area for us is the elderly, and some of them are exactly the type of individual citizen to whom he referred. Given that assurance, the question of how best we can deal not just with the situation now but one that deteriorates even further is under active consideration. We are providing assistance at this moment in time, particularly in private care homes, where there are extreme difficulties, as the continuation of funding is a problem. The matter is a priority for our high commissioner, who is looking both at what we can do in contingency terms inside the borders of Zimbabwe and at what other actions need to be taken in those situations where people are extremely vulnerable.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): When Chile suffered under the similarly brutal Pinochet dictatorship, we discovered that many British companies had been involved in providing the paraphernalia of repression to that Government—things such as riot police training, tear gas and so on. Is the Minister absolutely certain that no British company or British-domiciled person is in any way providing the paraphernalia of repression to Mugabe’s regime, and will he make sure that no other European country takes part in that repression, either?

Mr. McCartney: There is an EU arms embargo, and it is critical both here and throughout the EU that companies respect it. It would be a breach of the embargo not to do so, but if my hon. Friend has any evidence of such action, I will investigate it. However, as far as we are concerned, there is a strong embargo that will remain in place and we may consider extending it.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has made the most outspoken criticism of the Mugabe regime that I have ever heard from a Minister in the House, and I congratulate him on it. Does he not agree that Mr. Mugabe has lost the support of the civilised world? He has lost the support of the overwhelming majority of African countries and of the majority of his own people—and even the majority in his own party—and is merely supported by a minority in his party. Can we not take a genuine initiative in dealing with African countries to indicate that we will do our best to help, if requested, in the supervision of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, to help with food aid and all the other necessary things to help to remove the suffering of the people?

Mr. McCartney: For the second time in a week, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. There is nothing in his remarks that I disagree with. That is precisely what we are trying to do, in a multilateral way, where we play a very effective part, in order, first, to achieve democracy, secondly, to rebuild the country, and thirdly, to sustain the aid and support that we are giving and to extend that internationally. Fourthly, I cannot overemphasise the desire from the Prime Minister downwards in this regime to encourage South Africa and other front-line states to come up to the plate now. I am certain that that is happening. The
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1174
important thing for us is to support it and take it forward, as I suggested in my opening statement and in my remarks since.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), may I bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that I have a constituent who is still threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe? He is a man who is suffering from serious mental illness. As far as we can tell, there are no mental health facilities at all in Zimbabwe at present. Home Office Ministers have refused even to meet me about the case. If there is such a suspension as the Minister referred to, will he make sure that Home Office Ministers know about it?

Mr. McCartney: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I do not know the circumstances of the case. Irrespective of my ministerial responsibilities, I will raise the specific case with my Home Office counterparts. Hon. Members are entitled to see Ministers, whatever their responsibilities. There is an open-door policy in that respect. I will take back the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and ensure that he receives an appropriate response from the Minister concerned.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Can the Minister confirm that Robert Mugabe’s daughter, Bona Mugabe, is currently studying at the London School of Economics, and if so, can he say who is paying?

Mr. McCartney: On the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I understand that that is the case. On the second part, I am not certain so I cannot answer. I will write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy in the Library of the House. In response to the hon. Member for Cotswold I said, without prompting, that we should seriously consider extending the travel ban to children and other members of the family.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The Minister should be warmly commended for his robust criticism of the Mugabe regime and for pointing out that all the failings of Zimbabwe, which are causing such harm to its people, rest entirely with Mugabe and not with us or previous colonial rule. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it significant that the Archbishop of York, who has huge regional experience, has said that South Africa is in denial on these matters?

Mr. McCartney: What the archbishop has done has been very helpful. Over the past few days and weeks—I do not mean just the past 10 days or the past fortnight—he and others have increasingly been speaking up and speaking out, demanding of South Africa and cajoling South Africa to take a more proactive role. That is exactly what has been happening in the past few days. That is why we must maintain and develop a relationship. That is why the Prime Minister has written to President Mbeki and why we have had discussions with the President of Tanzania. Further discussions will take place. It is critical, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to move to a point where those in
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1175
the region take responsibility to assist the process of Mugabe leaving and getting a democratic, accountable Government in place.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): If the Mugabe regime comes to an end or if for any other reason there is free access to deliver humanitarian aid on the scale that it is required in Zimbabwe, what plans are being put in place now to make sure that there can be a rapid increase in the level of that aid?

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. On 23 March, we hosted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a meeting of 10 countries to discuss contingency planning—the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and the European Commission. Those are the key donors in the region and also those which have representation in Harare. So we are already thinking about the twin-track approach that I spoke about in my statement.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Minister consider talking to the Foreign Secretary, because one of them should go to South Africa during the forthcoming recess with the Archbishop of York to talk to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and other prominent South Africans who have spoken out to try to put some pressure on the South African Government, who have the key?

Mr. McCartney: To stop the hon. Gentleman fretting, I should say that I speak to the Foreign Secretary every day on a range of matters. [Hon. Members: “Commiserations!”] Hon. Gentlemen should not be so churlish. There will be a range of diplomatic activity, as there is now, and it will include ministerial involvement. As part of what I have promised the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers, I will keep them abreast of continuing events, including ministerial engagement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I ask the Minister whether officials have consulted the International Criminal Court on whether charges can be formulated against Mugabe and his chief lieutenants? Although that might not lead to an actual prosecution, it would be a deterrent. On any view, Mugabe’s activities, while not as grave as those of Milosevic, are similar in kind.

Mr. McCartney: That is a similar question to the one asked by the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), although perhaps it is more direct. The ICC is the next stage; the first stage, which we must concentrate on, is the process of engaging with front-line states and people internally in Zimbabwe to get a new regime and a new Government following agreed democratic principles. Any issue that arises after that will be for discussion. This Government are the biggest supporter of the ICC. We have already resisted efforts not to have it operate in Darfur—where there has been clear potential for its activities—and in northern Uganda and other areas. We are big supporters of the ICC, but I would rather not speculate at this stage, when the priority is clearly
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1176
the international effort working with South Africa, Tanzania and others to ensure a transition from Mugabe to democratic government in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Although I commend the Minister for his robust condemnation of the Mugabe regime, I am not alone in the House in thinking that the statement was one of the most empty that I have heard. I ask for specific action. I have a report that a Chinese-registered ship docked last week in Mozambique at Beira and off-loaded small arms destined for Harare. I have another report that a team of Israelis are going to Harare to advise on demonstration control and that, furthermore, they are sending tear gas from Israel to Harare to support the Government there. Will this Government investigate whether those reports are true, and if so raise the matter at the highest level with the Governments of Mozambique, Israel and—[Hon. Members: “China”]—China? Will they also ensure that such matters are raised at the United Nations and by the European Union, too?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman was rather churlish in saying that the statement was empty: helping to keep millions alive with £120 million-worth of aid is not empty rhetoric; helping to fight Zimbabwe’s AIDS pandemic is not empty rhetoric; supporting all those working for democratic change is not empty rhetoric; helping to isolate Mugabe on an international basis is not empty rhetoric; pressing the African Union to support efforts to allow the people of Zimbabwe to remove Mugabe is not empty rhetoric; and pursuing the United Nations to increase pressure through the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is not empty rhetoric. The hon. Gentleman can by all means criticise, but he should do so on the basis of logic and not make partisan political points.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The Minister will be aware, as is everyone, that Zimbabwe is on the brink of both economic and institutional collapse. Is he aware that this could bring the country to collapse much more quickly and that, given what he said, we are apparently unprepared for what might happen? If at its meeting this week ZANU-PF’s central committee refuses to have Mugabe as the sole candidate in the forthcoming elections, and if at its own meeting in Tanzania the Southern African Development Community then votes for change, collapse would come even more quickly. What is the free western world going to do to help the people of Zimbabwe in these circumstances?

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Lady for her question; her points are well made. Such points are why I set out in my statement what we are doing and will continue to do, and the contingency planning that I set out in the meeting that was held in my Department on 23 March. We are well aware of the movement in the situation. Hon. Members may rest assured that all that we can do, ourselves and by working with the international community, will be done.

The infrastructure in Zimbabwe is now significant, and we are putting in significant resources. I do not in any way underestimate the difficulties that would be caused, not just in Zimbabwe but across the region, if the country were to go into free fall. That is why it is critical that we work in unison with the region to get a
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1177
transition from Mugabe to a new Government in a way that does not cause total disruption or a complete implosion of society in Zimbabwe, difficult though that is. I assure the hon. Lady that all our efforts and aims are to that effect.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): When visiting Zimbabwe in February 2004 I was privileged and inspired to meet the distinguished human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. Given that on only Tuesday of last week Beatrice was again brutally assaulted by police officers when seeking to serve court papers on them, is it not now time that South Africa led a united international community in issuing to Robert Mugabe a very simple message: “Quit now and count your lucky stars if members of the MDC are willing to be bigger in dealing with you than you have ever been in dealing with them”?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman takes a great deal of interest in these issues. The lady concerned is an extraordinary person; every day could be her last. Such is the regime’s disregard for human rights that it is not just those who want to campaign for rights; the attack is on the defenders of human rights too. That is why we have put substantial financial resources into supporting those human rights defenders—in addition to the other resources. I do not say that in a partisan way; I just want to make it clear that we are helping to resource their activities as well.

In the past few days, South African Minister Pahad made a substantial move forward, saying:

They seem few words, but in terms of what has gone on in the past they represent a significant step forward. We hope to build on that, particularly in view of what the Prime Minister has set out in his letter to President Mbeki, and the discussion and debate that we are having with the South African Government at various levels and with the President of Tanzania.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Further to the question raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the arrest and arraignment before a UN international court of Charles Taylor of Liberia creates the clear precedent that no Head of Government or Head of State is immune to trial by the international community for crimes against humanity.

The Minister may reflect that he might send out the wrong signal. It needs to be made very clear that Mugabe could be arraigned before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. That is not a matter for us; it is a matter for the ICC. The fact that he is a Head of State or a Head of Government no longer gives him immunity, and we must make it clear that where Heads of State or of Government trespass beyond what is acceptable in the 21st century, they will be brought to justice, as, hopefully, will Charles Taylor of Liberia.

Mr. McCartney: I do not think that I could be any clearer about the Government’s support for the ICC. Its creation means that for the first time the world
26 Mar 2007 : Column 1178
community is saying, in international terms, that there is no impunity for some of the activities of the most despotic leaderships of the world. That is why we took action in accepting international responsibility for Taylor when his trial comes and for the end of the trial; why we have been so firm with the Justice Minister and others in Darfur about their responsibility to work with the ICC; and why we have been so firm as regards the situation in northern Uganda. This Government are at the forefront of supporting the ICC. As for sending the wrong signal, the first signal that we need to send concerns the need to get a transition from Mugabe’s regime to a democratic regime and to do so not in a way that undermines its people’s capacity to have a country that does not implode but that, with international support, goes from strength to strength in very difficult circumstances.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): There are 4 million Zimbabweans in political exile abroad, 295,000 Zimbabweans were displaced during the farm seizures, and a staggering 700,000 were internally displaced during Operation Murambatsvina. Surely one of the key issues is that of protecting the votes of those Zimbabweans in future elections.

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is critically important that, working with the international community, any change in regime is to a Government whom we recognise as democratic and accountable to the citizens of Zimbabwe, and where there is a fully fledged Opposition working in the context of free, transparent elections. That is all part of the process. In the coming weeks and months, the first priority must be to ensure that we are able to take forward the momentum of South Africa’s and Tanzania’s engagement to secure a future for the Zimbabwean people that excludes Robert Mugabe.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): If there is a total collapse in Zimbabwe, what specific plans does the Minister have for the 12,000 British citizens who live in that country? When will his Government finally take way Mugabe’s honorary knighthood?

Mr. McCartney: The honorary knighthood was given in 1994 by then Prime Minister Major. It is a source of angst and something that we may want to consider at some point. However, it is a third order issue in relation to the issues that we need to resolve. It sounds good, but it is a bolthole, and we must try not to provide Mugabe, or any of his supporters inside or outside the country, with any bolthole, but concentrate our efforts on having a regime that will take on responsibility for the citizens of Zimbabwe in a democratic way.

I cannot make any plainer the contingency planning that we need to do as an international community. This is an evolving situation. However, I gave the House a commitment, and I give it again: I will come back to the House as the situation evolves. In the meantime, I will keep Opposition Front Benchers in constant touch with what I and other Ministers are doing.

Next Section Index Home Page