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19 July 2007 : Column 488

Meg Munn: I give way for the final time to the hon. Gentleman who is so light on his feet.

John Bercow: I am extremely grateful, and I am sorry to press this point but it is important. Gideon Gono is both a craven lickspittle of Mugabe and the architect of the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of Zimbabweans. Why on earth can we not unilaterally impose a ban on his coming to this country? Which EU member states stand in the way of more robust and concerted action? I think we should be told.

Meg Munn: I will try to be robust in response. Gideon Gono is not welcome in the UK. He does not intend to travel here, and we do not intend to let him come.

I end by saying that a major change of direction is needed, and a major change of policy. Only then can the situation in Zimbabwe be reversed. We do not believe that Robert Mugabe is willing or able to change and, more importantly, nor do the people of Zimbabwe. We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that their voice is heard, so that Zimbabwe can enjoy new leadership and a new start.

2.54 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): May I begin by welcoming the Minister to her first debate at the Dispatch Box? She was generous in giving way to hon. Members. She managed to stick to a pretty feeble script provided by the Foreign Office. Those of us who have served in Departments know only too well the kind of script that will often have in brackets: “If pressed”, “If really pressed”, “Under no circumstances admit this” and—the biggest joke of all—when one turns the page, “You’re on your own now.”

Tony Baldry: Can my hon. Friend tell me one thing that the Minister said that we should welcome? Has not the House today witnessed a rather terrifying sight? It sounded like we had a Foreign Office Minister who felt unable to say anything on a line to take, because the Foreign Office seems to be groping desperately for an EU common position. Until they have found their EU common position, Ministers at the Foreign Office do not seem able to tell us what Her Majesty’s Government actually think. It was a pathetic performance.

Mr. Simpson: As usual, my hon. Friend states delicately what a number of colleagues have felt and expressed. Although I may have begun my reply with a lightness of touch, what he and other hon. Members have touched on is a very serious situation. I have no intention of reading out the long litany of things that President Mugabe has done or of setting out the appalling circumstances in Zimbabwe. I wish to concentrate on the fact that Zimbabwean society is close to breaking, that the situation there is likely to explode among the neighbouring countries, and that—to pick up the point that my hon. Friend mentioned—it is difficult to establish from the Minister’s comments what the policy of Her Majesty’s Government actually is and what they intend to do about the crisis.

The international community must accept that the stand that it has taken against Mugabe has proved
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almost totally ineffective. The build-up of pressure has been weakened by a lack of cohesion between states which firmly oppose the Mugabe regime and states which are unprepared to stand directly against it. President Mugabe has been able to circumvent attempts to isolate both his Government and him personally by exploiting those divisions. At every opportunity, he has attempted to use a distorted view of Zimbabwe’s historical relationship with Britain to peddle the fable that it is only he who bravely stands against the interference of a former colonial power.

I recognise that, amazingly, Mugabe is still regarded as a hero of the anti-colonial struggle by many Zimbabweans and by those living in neighbouring countries, but recognising that does not mean that we have feebly to accept the fact that we in Britain cannot argue the case forcefully, recognising our colonial heritage. We have a direct moral, economic and political interest in the peoples of Zimbabwe and, indeed, the future of south Africa. If we do not recognise that, we deserve to be a minor European power.

Mr. Gale: Would my hon. Friend include in that responsibility a responsibility for former colonials and Zimbabwean passport holders—the sons and daughters of people who went out from this country and helped to make that country once great?

Mr. Simpson: I would hope that any British Government would look with a great deal of favour on those people. If nothing else, we have a moral responsibility to them and a responsibility in relation to their potential fate in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe has consistently managed to foil diplomatic attempts to bring political change in Zimbabwe while —unfortunately—profiting from the protective umbrella of African states which help to keep him at arm’s length from the demands of the international community. However, those very African states that will bear the brunt of the social and political fallout in the event of Zimbabwe’s collapse. As the Minister pointed out, large numbers of refugees are already moving into the neighbouring countries of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi, and the potential for regional destabilisation is growing.

What estimates have the Government made of the number of refugees who are pouring into each of those countries and what is the Government’s assessment of the countries’ capacity to cope with any surge in the numbers fleeing? The international community must be ready to assist the south African countries and plan a response to the possible humanitarian crisis that looms ever closer. What international assistance would be provided in the event of a desperate humanitarian situation? What discussions have the Government held at the UN and with our European partners about this subject?

One of our many concerns is the security and well-being of UK passport holders in Zimbabwe. Will the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), tell the House how many UK passport holders are residing in Zimbabwe? Furthermore, if the internal situation breaks down into wider disorder, what are the Government’s contingency plans to
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protect or evacuate those people? I am trying to keep to specific factual questions. I would have hoped that the Foreign Office might have thought that hon. Members would ask such questions. I look to the Minister to reply to some of them during his winding-up speech.

For such reasons, now, more than ever, the international community must ensure that concerted pressure is brought to bear on the regime to hasten the return of democracy. Mugabe’s position internally is increasingly precarious, and there are signs of factions developing in ZANU-PF, his party. In that context, the redoubling of efforts across a broad coalition of countries could undoubtedly help to strengthen the existing forces for change.

One of the most pertinent points that has been raised during the debate is whether President Mugabe will be invited to attend the EU-African Union summit later this year. I understand only too well that the British Government wish, as far as possible, to line up with their EU partners. Considerable strength will arise from that. However, given what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said about the Prime Minister’s alleged comments, many people will have found it incredible that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was unable to say that the British Government’s preferred option was for President Mugabe not to attend the conference. That should be the Government’s preferred option. It would find support across the House and send a powerful message to Mugabe and his henchmen.

Surely possible disadvantages would be outweighed by the implications of Mugabe’s attendance. Allowing him to attend would be wholly inconsistent with the EU common position that bans 140 of Mugabe’s henchmen and officials from travelling. We know that he will exploit the occasion for all it is worth to show Zimbabweans that he is still fĂȘted and welcomed by the international community. We must send the signal that the destruction that he has wrought on his own people cannot be tolerated not only by Britain, a former colonial power, but the whole of the EU. Successive British Prime Ministers have talked about putting Britain at the centre of Europe. On this issue, let us at least put ourselves firmly at the centre of the EU, set an example and damn the others to follow us.

In May, in reply to the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Minister for the Middle East wrote:

Will the Under-Secretary explain in more detail during his winding-up speech what outcome the Government would consider to be consistent with the EU common position? What steps will the Government take to ensure that Mugabe cannot attend? Will the Minister assure the House that none of the representatives of Mugabe’s Government who is on the EU travel ban list will be allowed to attend? Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister gave a commitment that he will not attend the conference if President Mugabe attends? Will he give us a clear yes or no?

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International sanctions justifiably target the influential figures at the heart of the regime in Zimbabwe—those who continue to prosper at the direct expense of the general populace. We understand that whatever action Britain takes should be carried out through the mechanism of the European Union because that will refute Mugabe’s argument that Britain, the former colonial power, is the driving force. Unfortunately, sanctions have lacked a direct impact to affect the attitudes of those who could force Mugabe to change his course. As the Minister said, fewer than 130 individuals linked to the Mugabe regime are subject to a travel ban and asset freeze under EU sanctions. Will the Government clarify whether they believe that 130 individuals accurately reflects the number of people responsible for conducting Mugabe’s operations across the wide network of governmental departments and bodies, and police, youth-militia and intelligence services?

Following the violence that took place against opposition politicians in Zimbabwe four months ago, the UK Government said:

However, since then, only a handful of names have been included, and that can hardly be described as a substantial advance. The one person whose name is continually mentioned in debates on the subject—Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who is responsible for the country’s treasury and who controls almost all the economic Ministries—does not appear on the EU list, although it appears on the lists drawn up by New Zealand and the United States. Why is it not on the EU list, and why have the British Government not told our European colleagues that that is totally and utterly unacceptable?

In a letter of 21 July to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor said that the UK would press the EU to add Mr. Gono’s name to the EU list. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs tell the House why those representations failed? Did the EU say, “Not now; we are not prepared to do that. Come back later”? Will those representations be revived, or does the EU lack the resolve to deal with the matter?

Surely the time has come for a wider asset freeze and travel ban, covering all family members and business associates of the people who are already on the list, and surely EU visas and residence permits should be cancelled. It is well known that many family members of Zimbabwean Government officials on the EU travel ban list reside in EU countries. It would significantly strengthen the EU common position if we revoked those rights of residence. Additionally, the institutions in Zimbabwe that are instruments of the Government and their members should be made subject to the EU assets freeze. It is crucial that the Mugabe regime and those closest to it start to feel the personal cost of the devastation that they are inflicting on their country.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that the outgoing American ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, has made clear his Government’s commitment to introducing just such a
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ban? That gives a strong message to the coterie of thugs who run Zimbabwe, and my hon. Friend is right to press the Government on his very similar point.

Mr. Simpson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I read the report to which he refers, which was robust. It is an example to the British Government and our EU neighbours. Given the hugely destabilising impact that Zimbabwe’s collapse would have on the region, its neighbours seem to be displaying a regrettable lack of foresight and urgency. The outcome of an extraordinary summit held by the Southern African Development Community in Tanzania this March was indeed extraordinary, if not rather unbelievable. The summit’s participants refused publicly to criticise Mugabe, and instead reaffirmed their ‘solidarity’, while appealing for the end of

One result of the summit was that President Mbeki of South Africa was appointed to mediate a political settlement between the Government of Zimbabwe and their opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. His efforts are to be wholeheartedly supported, but it must be noted that it was the fifth time since 2000 that the SADC had asked President Mbeki to facilitate political dialogue in Zimbabwe, and it came long after his admission in 2004 that his quiet diplomacy had failed. As our former Prime Minister Tony Blair stated, the solution will ultimately have to come from Africa, but the international community must do whatever it can to encourage the process.

Political negotiation and collaboration between the main political parties will be vital to any transition towards democratic reform. Britain can assist in that effort, but fresh impetus desperately needs to be injected into the diplomatic attempts to nurture that political process. In the absence of stronger support from the wider southern Africa leaders, the task has proven too difficult for a succession of distinguished figures, including the previous President of Tanzania, the former Mozambican President, the Nigerian leader and the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. It seems to many of us that large numbers of members of the international community are wringing their hands and passing around messages of support, but not taking any action.

President Mbeki’s latest arbitration attempt has not had an auspicious start: ZANU-PF representatives have failed to turn up to talks in Pretoria on three separate occasions. Mugabe shows no serious sign of taking the initiative, and while he stalls, life for millions of Zimbabweans becomes ever more desperate.

Do not the Government share our concern that events are moving at such a fast pace that the country’s rapidly plummeting economy may render the talks irrelevant, and, indeed, may render the Government’s statement this afternoon irrelevant? What steps are the Government taking in conjunction with their European counterparts and the AU to support President Mbeki’s endeavours and persuade him to intensify them? What role is the UK High Commissioner in South Africa, a former Government Minister, taking in all this? He is a distinguished, diplomatic and feline politician who, I would imagine, could put his good offices at the disposal of the international community. Does the Minister have any confidence that the current set of talks will succeed, given the urgency of the situation?

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Local pressure will be decisive in influencing events in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, experience has shown that the solidarity and mutual interests of states within the SADC continue to outweigh objections that they may have regarding Mugabe’s rule. Mugabe has not only consistently avoided any significant pressure from his neighbours and resisted the advances of quiet diplomacy, but he has used his African alliance to deter escalation through the UN Security Council.

By any estimate, there remain clear gaps as well as weaknesses in the international consensus. The UK Government’s aim to achieve international solidarity must be deemed to be failing until more progress can be made to bring the members of the SADC on board. Have the Government given any thought to how the Commonwealth might be engaged to play a constructive role in the crisis? Although Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 after suspension from the councils, its neighbouring countries are all members. Does the Minister therefore agree that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to take action and exert influence on the neighbours of Zimbabwe and make certain that Zimbabwe remains at the top of the Commonwealth agenda?

The detrimental long-term effects of tolerating the Mugabe regime need to be strongly and clearly laid out. The international community must succeed in convincing Zimbabwe’s neighbours that a failed state in their near proximity is a threat to their best interests. In the coming months, the burden of humanitarian and social collapse, as well as economic demise, will increasingly fall on Zimbabwe’s neighbours—South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and others. Britain must convince them that protecting a failing regime is short-sighted, in view of the awaiting economic and humanitarian cost, and will only hinder the future development of the whole region. The kind of statement that the Minister had to read out this afternoon is not exactly a trumpet call to taking action against Zimbabwe. It is a rather muted, strangled whine that will have no influence whatever on Zimbabwe or its neighbours.

Careful consideration must be given to initiating International Criminal Court investigations into the atrocities committed by Mugabe and members of his regime. Earlier this year, the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said:

It goes without saying that everyone in the House would dearly love to witness the completion of stage 1 as he outlined, but we must also consider whether bringing legal proceedings forward might leave those indicted in no doubt of their accountability to international law, and perhaps provide them with the clearest view yet of the end-game approaching.

Finally, it is vital that the international community presents a united front in pursuing a clear strategy that increases the penalties on the Zimbabwean leaders, while showing that there is another way open if those who support them change their course.

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