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Ministerial Visits (Belgrade)

7. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Which members of the Government have visited Belgrade since October 2000. [154093]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade visited Belgrade on 8 and 9 November. A visit by the Foreign Office is a high priority. The visit to Belgrade by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) participated, was also a success. Federal Foreign Minister Svilanovic was in London on 27 and 28 February.

Mr. Mackinlay: Does the Minister accept that that reply is unsatisfactory? He is responsible for the Balkan region but he has not visited it. He has not been to Belgrade, Pristina, Podgorica or Zagreb. Either there is a shortage of Foreign Ministers or the priorities are wrong. When is he going?

Mr. Vaz: With such an invitation, I should be on the plane tomorrow with my right hon. Friend. I assure my hon. Friend that Foreign Office Ministers are fully engaged in bilateral visits. He may shake his head, but a few weeks ago he chided another colleague about a visit to Poland. We must set priorities, and we have done that. Several Foreign Ministers have visited London. We organised a Balkans taskforce conference last year and several other Foreign Ministers attended it. I know that my hon. Friend is cross, but I assure him that the Balkans are a high priority, and I hope to give him some welcome news in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Further to the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) earlier, it is not so very many weeks since the man whom many regard as a dictator, a tyrant and a murderer was invited to Belgium and France. [Hon. Members: "No. 9."] The Foreign Secretary has indicated that he intends to publish the advice that he offered the Belgian and French--

Hon. Members: No. 9.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): If it is not too late, Mr. Speaker, I will answer questions 9, 13 and 14 together.

President Mugabe

9. Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): What plans he has to meet President Mugabe; and if he will make a statement. [154095]

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13. Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): What plans he has to meet Morgan Tsvangerai to discuss the present situation in Zimbabwe. [154099]

14. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): What contact he has had with the Governments of Belgium and France and with the Commission of the European Union about the recent visit of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe to Brussels and Paris. [154100]

Mr. Cook: I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said earlier.

Mr. Gale: Having waited for that answer, I do not think that it was terribly wrong of me to proceed--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that when I called him I expected him to call out the number of the question on the Order Paper, and he should have done so. I therefore hope that his supplementary will be very brief.

Mr. Gale: It is not so very long since a man whom many people regard as a dictator and a tyrant was invited to Belgium and France. The Foreign Secretary has indicated that he intends to publish the advice that he gave the French and the Belgians, and that is welcome. However, will he say whether at any time he indicated to either of our European allies--

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): We have to provide the opposition as well.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Gale: Has the Foreign Secretary indicated to either of our European allies that this man should be treated as the pariah that he is, and not given the red carpet treatment that he received?

Mr. Cook: I have repeatedly been urged in this House to use all possible channels of communication with President Mugabe to increase the pressure on him to improve the observance of human rights within Zimbabwe. We therefore communicated to Belgium and France that if they were to meet President Mugabe, it was important that they pressed him on human rights. As I have already spoken about the Belgian meeting, perhaps I can add, for completeness, that we understand that when President Chirac met President Mugabe, he insisted that there should be dialogue with the commercial farmers and respect for the rule of law, that the violence should be curbed and that President Mugabe should halt the expulsion of foreign journalists. I welcome that message to President Mugabe.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Does the Foreign Secretary realise that what so many people in this country, myself included, find so offensive is the contrast between the Labour party's view on South Africa, when we were treated to frenetic indignation the whole time, and the Government's total lack of urgency as Zimbabwe, a once prosperous country, declines into penury, state-sponsored murder and chaos? Surely the Foreign Secretary is utterly inept to withdraw the one lever that the British Government had over the Government of Zimbabwe--the

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military component operating out of Harare. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not now cancel that decision so that at least he would do something that the Opposition in Zimbabwe would like the British Government to do?

Mr. Cook: As a matter of fact, for the sake of the completeness of the record, I was urged to withdraw that in April of last year by Conservative Front Benchers. It is a bit rich to do it and then to be condemned.

As for the contrast with southern Africa, let me make it quite clear that no Labour Member resiles from one single word of criticism for apartheid. It is a bit rich for the party that opposed Commonwealth sanctions against apartheid now to demand more sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Did the European Commissioner and the leading figures of two important European Union member countries remind the President of Zimbabwe that there are in his country some 20,000 European Union citizens who hold British passports and who should be the common concern of our European Union partners and of Her Majesty's Government? Have not the Foreign Secretary and our European partners betrayed them in not making it clear that any question of taking away their dual nationality, dispossessing them of their farms and perhaps ejecting them from the country is against every tenet of human rights and decent international behaviour?

Mr. Cook: Both the European figures--the Prime Minister of Belgium and the President of France--raised with President Mugabe the illegal and brutal occupation of the farmlands, and urged the use of dialogue to resolve that and bring it to an end.

A number of countries do not recognise dual nationality, but I take the opportunity with which the hon. Gentleman has presented me to deplore the threatening language that has been used against those commercial farmers in Zimbabwe who may have another nationality. They provide the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy. They have made their lives in Zimbabwe and contributed to the present economic strength of the agricultural sector there, which is being undermined. If the Government of Zimbabwe continue to take action of a vindictive character, not only those British nationals but all the people of Zimbabwe will suffer because of the disastrous impact on the economy.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Is it not a fact that on every possible occasion the British Government and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have made it clear to Zimbabwe and President Mugabe that this Government are extremely concerned at the erosion of democracy and the independent judicial system in that country? Is it not also a fact that within about 12 months the people of Zimbabwe will have the opportunity to elect a President? They may well choose to change President on that occasion.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend's final point is important. It is important for all of us to use every channel to ensure that when that chance comes, the people of Zimbabwe have the opportunity of a free and fair election in which they can exercise their vote without any threat of intimidation. My hon. Friend is right. We have repeatedly

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condemned what is happening in Zimbabwe. We have done so within the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United Nations. If the Opposition can come up with anywhere else that we have not done so, I will be happy to do so.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Commonwealth takes action against Mugabe if the present situation continues? Would he like to remind us about any protestations or official representations from previous British Governments at the time of the Matabeleland massacres in 1982-84?

Mr. Cook: I have already made it clear to the House that we cannot discover any representations on the Matabeleland massacres. There was certainly no attempt to use the Commonwealth. We raised the situation in Zimbabwe with the Commonwealth last week. We were successful in securing unanimous agreement on the concerns, in particular the intimidation of the judiciary and the media. I am glad that there is agreement to send colleagues to Harare to express those concerns directly and to hear what answers there may be from the Zimbabwean Government. We will continue to press that Government to recognise that, as a member of the Commonwealth, they have a duty to receive the delegation from the Commonwealth.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) introduced the question of consistency. Does my right hon. Friend recall, during the bloodthirsty, murderous and repressive regime in Chile under self-styled Senator Pinochet, much opposition and condemnation from the then British Government, who are now Her Majesty's Opposition? How consistent does he believe that is with their quickness to condemn what is happening in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is nothing to do with the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Rather than issue an all-party declaration about what the right hon. Gentleman would like to happen in Zimbabwe, would he do something practical and invite the Government of South Africa--probably the only Government to whom the Zimbabwean Government will pay any attention at the moment--to apply pressure to the President of Zimbabwe to cease his activities with regard to the judiciary, the press and the rule of law? Surely that is the most practical and effective thing to do, and he could do it now.

Mr. Cook: The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point about the influence of the countries of the region on Zimbabwe. We have had regular dialogue with them ever since the Cairo European Union summit in the spring of last year. We will continue to raise the matter with them. Indeed, I spoke only yesterday with the Foreign Minister of Mozambique about our concerns about Zimbabwe and what the countries of the region can do to help. South Africa is by far the largest country in the region--it is by far the largest economy. It has a lead role in the region, which places certain responsibilities on it.

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