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European Security and Defence Initiative

3. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): When he last met his counterparts in the European Union to discuss future parliamentary scrutiny of the European security and defence initiative. [15425]

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): At the General Affairs Council eight days ago.

Mr. Wilkinson: I did not quite catch that reply, because it was a bit hurried and the Foreign Secretary was removing his brief from the Dispatch Box.

Before the Government come to a judgment, will they examine the performance of the armed forces of European Union countries in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan? Before the intergovernmental conference, will the Government also assess the extremely effective role already played in European security and defence issues by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Assembly of the Western European Union? Surely, the IGC—and not now—is the right time and place to move things forward.

Peter Hain: I acknowledge and pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's long-standing work as a member of the WEU Assembly and to his expertise in such matters. The issues that he raises are being considered. There is an embryonic European security and defence policy in place in operations in Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo where we are co-operating on an ad hoc basis with fellow European armed forces, and commanders from other member states sometimes command our forces. It is working very satisfactorily and we are learning a great deal from it, which will help the European Union to determine exactly

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how that capability can be made operational and contribute to peacekeeping humanitarian missions and crisis management.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I thank the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) for raising this issue following a conference that we both recently attended in Brussels.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arrangements for national parliamentary scrutiny of European security and defence policy are inadequate and that we are at risk of being overtaken by the European Parliament, which does not appear to want to await the outcome of the IGC? Will he give priority to a full debate on that matter and the relevant Select Committee reports? Will he facilitate a discussion between the relevant Committees and Members of the House on the WEU, the OSCE and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to consider improving our national parliamentary scrutiny of European security and defence policy developments?

Peter Hain: I will certainly consider the points raised by my hon. Friend, whose expertise is also valued by the House. We need to ensure that the initiative receives parliamentary scrutiny, that the discussions proceed and that the issue is addressed in the run-up to the IGC in 2004. We have no intention whatsoever of ceding scrutiny to the European Parliament. This is an intergovernmental matter that concerns the operational capacity of our troops, which is not something that we can cede to the European Parliament. We need national parliamentary supervision and accountability.


4. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What recent representations he has made to the Government of Zimbabwe relating to the land redistribution programme. [15426]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Land reform was one of the central issues in the Abuja negotiations in September. I raised it again with Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, Mr. Mudenge, in New York on 10 November and my noble Friend Baroness Amos discussed it during the Commonwealth ministerial visit to Harare in October.

At Abuja, Zimbabwe agreed that its land reform programme should be fair, just and sustainable and in the interest of all the people of Zimbabwe. It also committed itself to restore the rule of law to land reform and to respect the Commonwealth's Harare declaration. Its actions over the past three months show its scant regard for these commitments and have seriously undermined the Abuja agreement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), set out Government policy on Zimbabwe in this morning's Westminster Hall debate. Let me emphasise again to the House that we remain profoundly concerned at recent developments in Zimbabwe, including violence against the Opposition, interference in the judicial system, moves to disfranchise Zimbabweans living overseas and, preposterously, labelling journalists as people who have been assisting

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terrorists. Our European Union and Commonwealth partners, and neighbouring states in southern Africa, share those concerns.

At the 29 October General Affairs Council, the European Union therefore opened formal article 96 consultations with the Government of Zimbabwe under the Cotonou agreement. Cotonou states that if there is no progress within 75 days "appropriate measures" may be taken. A United Nations Development Programme technical team is now in Zimbabwe to look at the prospects for a credible land reform programme. Once its report is available, we will discuss it with Commonwealth and EU partners, and key donor countries including the US. We shall of course consult southern African countries as well. I will at that stage make a further statement to the House.

Mr. Winterton: I sincerely thank the Foreign Secretary for that considered and lengthy reply. As he said, the Abuja undertakings are being flagrantly ignored by Mr. Mugabe and his Government. Farms continue to be invaded and farm workers murdered, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans face famine, and the country is disappearing down a black hole.

Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that the EU and the Commonwealth work together to bring Mr. Mugabe and his Government to their senses? The most unfortunate development is that Mr. Mugabe has recently indicated that he will not allow independent monitors to observe the presidential election, which would be a disaster for that wonderful country.

Mr. Straw: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, which is based on deep knowledge of Zimbabwe, and the manner in which he made his points. I have been concerned throughout to ensure that we work in partnership with Commonwealth countries, the European Union and other southern African countries. Apart from the poor people in Zimbabwe, who are suffering grievously from the results of President Mugabe's policies, it is the countries contiguous to Zimbabwe that are most affected by the disastrous economic and political management of Zimbabwe. We shall continue to work with all those partners.

President Mugabe has to date refused to accept the involvement of election observers at the beginning of the electoral process, and not just at the end. We hope that he will change his mind, but I do not hold out much hope. What is striking about his refusal is that it appears to be in breach not only of various EU and Commonwealth declarations that he has signed, but of the declaration of detailed norms and standards for elections in the southern African region that he signed only last March and that specifically commits all southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, to the admission of independent election observers at the beginning of and throughout the process, and on polling day.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Given what appears to be the total disregard by President Mugabe for the Abuja agreement and all the other events in Zimbabwe, including the President calling members of the press "terrorists", at what point does my right hon. Friend think

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he will able to make a statement to the House saying that the Commonwealth has finally, alas, had to withdraw its recognition of Zimbabwe's membership?

Mr. Straw: Such measures are, as my hon. Friend knows very well, a matter for the Commonwealth as a whole, not the United Kingdom. I will say only that nothing would play better with President Mugabe than if he were allowed to present the issue as one between black Zimbabwe and the old colonial ruler, the United Kingdom, rather than what it really is: a major issue of multinational and international concern.

I spoke this morning to Don McKinnon, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, about the situation. We are likely to have a teleconference of the Commonwealth Ministers action group, of which I am a member in December, and a proper meeting in January, which should coincide with the end of the 75-day period under the article 96 process under Cotonou. In addition, we shall continue our discussions with southern African countries, because it is clear that there must be significant changes in the arrangements that President Mugabe is in practice willing to put in place for observers of the electoral process and for the process itself if that election is to carry any credibility with the rest of the world and with the voters of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Surely the truth is that Mr. Mugabe's behaviour is now so gross that Zimbabwe should be excluded from the Commonwealth until he is removed from office.

Mr. Straw: I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concerns and instincts. We are all profoundly concerned about what has been happening, above all on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered badly from 80 per cent. inflation, a decline in the growth rate of what was once the bread basket of Africa and the impoverishment of what was a prosperous country. However, I counsel the right hon. Gentleman against suggesting that the United Kingdom take unilateral action, which would work to President Mugabe's benefit. The important thing is to work in partnership with the Commonwealth, the European Union and, above all, the southern African countries.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there remains a need for balanced, fair and just reporting of the situation in Zimbabwe? Given what the Zimbabwean Government have said about foreign journalists aiding terrorists, what are the British Government doing to protect our journalists in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: We would actually do more to protect UK citizens who are journalists in Zimbabwe than we can to protect Zimbabwean citizens. The journalists whom President Mugabe portrayed as assisting terrorism were Zimbabwean citizens and should be mentioned for the great courage that they have shown in reporting the situation in Zimbabwe when faced with flagrant intimidation by people acting on behalf of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Following the reports, our high commissioner in Zimbabwe, Brian Donnelly, made strong representations at my specific request to the Zimbabwean Government. We continue to work with independent

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media, non-governmental organisations and others to ensure that as far as possible the media can report fairly and independently what is happening in Zimbabwe and that when they are prevented from doing so, the world knows.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Does the Foreign Secretary recall the Prime Minister telling the Labour party conference on 2 October that there would be

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating daily, with acts of murder and violence committed by Mugabe's agents on those who seek democratically to oppose him? Has not the time for hand wringing and waffling passed and the time to act arrived? Why do the Government not take a lead in building a new international coalition that can make it clear to Mugabe that failure to hold free and fair elections, starting with putting international observers in now, as voter registration is taking place, will result in severe political and economic consequences for him and his regime? That would demonstrate that when the Prime Minister talks about no tolerance, he means it.

Mr. Straw: We have just had a good example of hand wringing and waffle. The right hon. Gentleman should think carefully; building coalitions is exactly what we have been doing for months and was the purpose of the Abuja discussions. It was crucial that we broke away from the parody that President Mugabe had allowed himself to invent of a bilateral dispute between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe when it was nothing of the kind. The Abuja declaration was crucial because Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Jamaica and old Commonwealth countries signed up to it. The discussions between President Mbeki and our Prime Minister were also important, as were the decision of the General Affairs Council of the European Union to move from article 8 to article 96 and the meeting last week with Commissioner Patten and High Representative Solana in Zimbabwe.

We are making those moves along with our partners to ensure that there is a coalition. Unlike the previous Administration who, in the early 1980s, sat on their hands while more than 5,000 people were murdered in Matabeleland, we are taking effective action based on an international consensus.

Mr. Speaker: Before I call Question 5, I appeal for shorter questions and replies.

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