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The British government cannot be seen to be at the forefront of confronting Mugabe, alone ... that will be misconstrued as a colonial resuscitation of the same situation again. So Britain has to act together with the rest of the international community and the AU.
However, none of that is to deny the very specific historic connection that we have with the people of
Zimbabwe; and it is concern for them which drives our policy. Our approach is twofold. We want to see Zimbabwe back on the road to recovery. We want a reforming Government who pursue sensible and just policies. We want the people to have a chance to choose their Government freely. But until that time, we will do all that we can to relieve the suffering of the people of that country through a significant humanitarian aid programme.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The Minister mentioned the Governments aid programme. May I declare an interest? I am the unremunerated adviser to the Overseas Service Pensioners Association. At the time of Zimbabwes independence, a group of men and women were assured by the British Government that if they remained in post as civil servants in Zimbabwe their pension entitlements would be honoured. They are people in the most abject poverty. They are our kith and kin. It is shocking that we are not diverting some of the aid to those people. For the reasons that I have stated, they are our kith and kin, and they are some of the poorest. Does the Minister have any plans to review the situation? It is a crime on all of us to have let those people, who were so instrumental in helping the transition from white minority rule to the independent Zimbabwe, fall into this abject poverty.
Meg Munn: We take our duty of care and responsibility for British nationals in Zimbabwe very seriously. We provide a full consular service in Harare. We are making efforts to ensure that all British nationals, including those who are vulnerable and elderly, are aware of the assistance that we and other organisations can offer them. The embassy is making particular efforts to identify and support those who are infirm or elderly and who may find it harder to access consular assistance.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Minister has referred to ex-pat United Kingdom citizens. There is a significant white population who regard themselves fundamentally as British, but hold Zimbabwean passports. I have a constituent who was brought up in the United Kingdom by foster parents, but still holds a Zimbabwean passport. There is no exit route for her. Our own Government deny her access to what she regards as her own country. Is it not time that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office got together and made sure that there was a plan for these people?
The measures that we are taking have the support of Zimbabwean civil society organisations because they are, rightly, focused on Mugabe and his elite, not the people of Zimbabwe. As a direct response to the Government-orchestrated violence in March, we added further names to the EU's travel ban and assets-freeze list. The EU ban on arms sales and the EU travel ban
and assets freeze on 131 leading members of the regime remain in place. However, there are no economic sanctions, despite regime propaganda to the contrary, because of the damage they would do to ordinary Zimbabweans. The greatest sanction on the Zimbabwean economy is the policy of the Zimbabwean Government themselves.
Kate Hoey: Is it the position of Her Majestys Government to support Australian Prime Minister John Howards decision to order the Australian cricket team not to play Zimbabwe? What is the Governments position on sporting links with Zimbabwe?
Meg Munn: I find it hard to understand why anyone would want to go and play cricket in Zimbabwe. There are currently no sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe, but international sport should never be a way for dictators to publicise their misrule. We would not want the England cricket team to tour there. It is a matter for the English cricketing authorities to decide ultimately whether England play Zimbabwe or not. Our views are clear.
Let me also say a few words about the EU-Africa summit. We have stated very clearly to all concerned that this Government is committed to Africa and the EU-Africa relationship. Indeed, we launched the EU-Africa partnership strategy in 2005 under the UK Presidency. Above all, we want a summit this year that delivers real results for Africa. We do not want anything to overshadow this work, including Robert Mugabe. We want a solution that is consistent with the EU's common position on Zimbabwe and with what the EU and Africa want to achieve together on governance. We believe that any conference that goes ahead should, in our view, include a specific discussion on the situation in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to shine the UN spotlight on Mugabe's human rights abuses. We pushed for fifty countries to condemn him at the Human Rights Council in March and we will push for Zimbabwe to be back on September's agenda. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the many other groups working in the region and in this countryNGOs, church groups, womens groups and some trade unions in particularto document and draw attention to the abuses of the regime.
Meg Munn: There are always many rumours that China and other states are providing loans or support to Zimbabwe and we know that Robert Mugabe is always looking for lifelines to keep him afloat. We have discussed with China how it engages with Africa and Zimbabwe specifically. We want China to support the new African agenda led by Africans, and we will continue to consult at a bilateral and EU level.
Kate Hoey: I do not think that my hon. Friend responded to an earlier Opposition question that I would also like to ask. What is the position of the Government on any EU countryPortugal, which holds the presidency, in particularasking Robert Mugabe to come to the EU-African Union conference?
Meg Munn: The meeting is planned for later in the year and we have made our position clear on this. We are in discussions and there needs to be a solution to the matter. [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members want me to tell them what will happen in a few months time. I am not in a position to tell them, but we are clear that we do not want the summit to be overshadowed by Robert Mugabe.
Gordon Brown will refuse to attend a forthcoming summit of European Union and African leaders in Lisbon if Zimbabwes President Robert Mugabe is invited.
The House is seeking confirmation from the Minister not only that the Prime Minister will refuse to attend the summit if Mugabe is invited, but that so will the Foreign Secretary and all other British Ministers.
Meg Munn: I entirely understand why Members are asking such questions, but what I can say is that we are working with the EU and African partners on a solution that is consistent with the EU common position on Zimbabwe and with what the EU is seeking to achieve on governance. It is important that the conference go ahead, but we do not want it to be overshadowed by Robert Mugabe and we want any solution to be consistent with the EU common position.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I must tell her that she has not answered the question. As I said, The Sunday Times reported that the Prime Minister had already made it clear that he would not attend the summit under such circumstances. If the Minister refuses to repeat that assurance, that will imply that the Government are equivocal on the matter, which will send the wrong signal not only to Harare but, equally importantly, to Lisbon. It is important that the Minister today state clearly and unambiguously that the Prime Minister will not attend the EU summit if Mr. Mugabe is invited.
I am being as clear as I can be on this matter, and it is very clear where the Government stand in respect of Robert Mugabe. I have set out at length our views on this situation: we are working with EU and African partners on a solution that is consistent with the EU common position on Zimbabwe. I cannot answer any more questions on the matter, as I would merely be repeating myself.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development would have expanded further on the issue of such assistance in closing the debatewhich he wished to dowere he not currently in Sudan dealing with another pressing problem with which Members will be familiar. However, I can inform Members that we are one of the three largest donors to Zimbabwe, and that UK money is helping to keep hundreds of thousands of people alive. Last year, we committed more than £33 million to humanitarian programmes, including food aid. In the last five years we have given £35 million to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and we have committed a further £47 million for the next three years.
On the travel ban issue, I simply ask that given that the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono, is responsible for the 10,000 per cent. inflation that is wrecking the lives of millions of Zimbabweans, why on earth is he not banned from entering our country? He is thoroughly unwelcome.
Meg Munn: I understand that we are seeking to do something about that. If the hon. Gentleman will give me a few moments, I shall flick through my brief and try to find some information that might allow me to respond more precisely to his question, but first let me finish what I have to say about aid.
Baroness Vadera announced yesterday in another place that we will commit a further £50 million over the next five years to continue the protracted relief programme in Zimbabwe. That will enable continuing provision of social protection in the form of agricultural inputs, water and sanitation, training and home-based care for some 2 million of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe. Our aid is channelled through United Nations and NGO agencies, not via the Government. Our food aid is not a part of the ZANU-PF programme to use food as a means to force support or to punish opposition. We are also spending another £3.3 million this year supporting civil society and organisations working to promote good governance and open democratic space.
I can now respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham. On the Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono, we have argued for what the hon. Gentleman asks, but other EU partners have not supported us on it. We are clear that he is not welcome in the UK.
Of course, we have a particular responsibility for those British nationals still residing in or visiting Zimbabwe. Their welfare is a prime concern. We provide a full consular service in Harare and we maintain a network of consular correspondents to ensure that we keep in
close touch with our nationals in other urban and rural areas. We have a comprehensive and regularly updated contingency plan that covers the 12,000 nationals registered with the British embassy, including the elderly and vulnerable.
The country and people of Zimbabwe are being driven into the ground by the policies of a corrupt and brutal regime. Zimbabwe can recover, but only if the policies are in place to permit it. The UK stands ready to help substantially with Zimbabwes recovery. I know that many of the Zimbabwean diaspora are anxious to return to Zimbabwe and play their part.
James Duddridge: The Minister says that the governor is not welcome in the UK. For the sake of clarity, can she tell us whether that means he is subject to a travel ban? Many people are not welcome here, but that does not mean that they are subject to a travel ban.
Meg Munn: I hope to clarify that point later for the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is that other EU member states did not support our view on that, so the governor is not on the EU visa ban list. We are working, through the EU, on a common position and making our views clear.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: The whole House is grateful to the Minister for being so generous in giving way, and we recognise the great difficulties with which she is trying to wrestle. I wish to return to the point that I made earlier about the overseas pensioners. The note that the Minister was sent did not address the point at issue. I am specifically asking for an undertaking today that some part of the £33 million of aid will be specifically earmarked for those whose continued service through independence was responsible for reassuring the white community that there would be some stability after independence. The fact that they honoured their commitment to stay on led to the successful transition. Lord Trefgarne wrote that the independence constitution provides
full safeguards for public service pensions and their remittability.
That has not happened, and I ask the Minister for an undertaking today that those people will be looked after through the British taxpayers money that is going to Zimbabwe. Let us earmark some of it for those people.
Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman mentioned £33 million, but I think that I said £3.3 million. I will clarify that point, but I do not want to commit more money than we have in our coffers on my first outing at the Dispatch Box on this subject.
On independence, state pensions for civil servants in Zimbabwe became the responsibility of the Zimbabwe Government, and there has been no change in that position. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making every effort to support those British nationals who are vulnerable and whose pensions have become worthless as a consequence of Robert Mugabes economic policy. Those people are being treated in the same way as other British nationals in Zimbabwe.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) in a moment, but the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James
Duddridge) asked about the money situation. As yet, there are no formal proposals for Zimbabwe to join the rand zone. At this stage, little apart from a complete reversal of Robert Mugabes economic policies would slow down the countrys economic decline.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I appreciate that the Minister has faced huge difficulties in coming to the Dispatch Box to debate a subject of which she has little knowledge, and I think that the whole House sympathises and understands. However, is she not aware that it was the UK and not Europe that brought Mr. Mugabe to power? That means that we should take more responsibility, so why do we not impose a ban on the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, irrespective of the views of other European countries? That would set an example to others, and make it clear that the man cannot come to the UK because he is unwelcome and undesirable.
Meg Munn: I am not sure how to respond, as I think that I was being damned with faint praise by the hon. Gentleman. Although I certainly bow to the extensive knowledge of Zimbabwe displayed by other hon. Members, I would not describe my situation quite as he did.
Meg Munn: I hesitate to say that problems did not arise, but the situation in Zimbabwe at the outset of Mr. Mugabes regime was very different from what it is today. However, I think that I have made clear the Governments position in respect of the governor of the Reserve Bank.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I hope that it will assist my hon. Friend the Minister if I suggest that she need not bow too deeply to the extensive knowledge of these matters displayed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), as the UK did not bring Mr. Mugabe to power. He came to power as the result of a free election in Zimbabwe. In so far as we had any influence, we backed Bishop Muzorewa, who got 3 per cent. of the vote.
Meg Munn: I am very happy to bow to my hon. Friends greater knowledge, although I was referring to the collective expertise displayed by the House. However, this debate is not about who knows most. We should be considering what it is right for us to do, what we are doing, and how we can continue to press the matter. As I said at the outset, our policies do not end here, by any means. Further aid to Zimbabwe was announced only yesterday, and there is a SADC meeting in August. It will be appropriate for the House to discuss this matter again when we return from the summer recess.
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