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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 23 January 2002

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]


Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

9.30 am

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): It is chastening to observe that Robert Mugabe, who started his time in power in Zimbabwe as an avowed Marxist, seems to be ending it as a fascist.

I am put in mind of the fact that at about the time that Mugabe took control of Zimbabwe back in 1980, the BBC televised a version of Bertolt Brecht's remarkable play "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui". It painted, in terms of Chicago gangland, a parable of the rise to power of Hitler and the way in which he maintained himself in power, though nothing more than a lethal murderous clown, by means of corruption of the courts, intimidation of witnesses and the substitution of gangsterism for civilised behaviour.

I am reminded of that play in the context of present-day Zimbabwe because of the series of reports that comes out of that wretched country day by day. On 15 January, it was reported that David Mpala, an opposition lawmaker, was critically wounded after 20 ruling party militants attacked him, slitting his abdomen. The police spokesmen said that the incident was being investigated, but claimed that the assailants were unknown and suggested that it could have been a case of carjacking.

Similarly, on 19 January, it was reported that Thomas Tawanda Spicer, the 17-year-old son of a Zimbabwean film maker, was tied to a tree, and beaten and kicked throughout the night. Later, he was taken to a police station where he was reportedly arrested on charges of kidnapping. After first denying any knowledge of him, the police then confirmed that he was in their custody, but have denied him access to his family or to a lawyer.

This is the third debate on Zimbabwe in as many months that has taken place in Westminster Hall. There remain 45 days before the presidential election. Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change states that the country is already engaged in what he describes as "low-intensity civil war". There are road blocks where people are required to produce ZANU-PF cards if they want to proceed. Prisoners are being interrogated in ways that would have Labour Back Benchers and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers frothing at the mouth if they were applied to al-Qaeda suspects in Cuba.

The foreign press is being excluded from the country, and the local press is threatened with being licensed year by year. The chief justice of Zimbabwe has been forced from office; opposition politicians have been murdered; their rallies have been tear gassed and their offices torched. An electoral register excluding up to 2 million

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Zimbabweans on the basis that one parent was born abroad has been drawn up, while the same electoral register allows large numbers of long-dead voters the privilege of receiving a ballot paper.

There are threats to seize UK companies in Zimbabwe, of which there are about 300. Repeated demands are being made for British passport holders to renounce their UK citizenship and, presumably, the protection that that is still reckoned to confer. Since 2000, 156 opposition supporters have been murdered and many more have been kidnapped and tortured. The military have stated that they will not serve under a different Government from that of Mr. Mugabe. Of course, they do not put it precisely in those words. The chief of staff, General Zvinavashe, said that the armed forces could not accept a president who had not fought in the liberation struggle. That was clearly designed to rule out Morgan Tsvangirai.

It is believed that, since the beginning of this month, some 10,000 soldiers have been sent on leave to campaign throughout the country for a Mugabe election win. Legislation is being put into practice to ban foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe at the earliest opportunity. Two-year jail terms are anticipated for reporters who cause by their journalism "alarm and despondency" in the country.

In short, Zimbabwe is suffering from starvation, inflation and colossal unemployment, while Mugabe and his cronies embezzle funds and channel them abroad in readiness for a possible enforced retirement to Libya or some other bolthole, in the event that they are eventually forced from power.

The head of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Basildon Peta, has produced a remarkable series of reports for The Independent. He notes:

The question that I must ask is, why are people who, rightly, strongly criticised white repression in those countries in the past responding so feebly to black repression now? This is a viciously racist and fascistic regime. Where are the mass demonstrations against it? Could it be that people on the left of politics feel a little intimidated by such Mugabe rhetoric—unjustified rhetoric I hasten to add—as, "Britain has a war with us. Prime Minister Tony Blair wants his own version of colonialism in Zimbabwe."? Is it a liberal-left guilt feeling about anti-imperialism, or simply double standards? I do not believe that it is double standards, but I do believe that a bit of liberal angst is creeping into the muted reaction that we are getting to this terrible situation.

Baroness Amos, a Government spokesman in the Upper House, reportedly told the BBC:

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The report, via the Press Association, goes on to say that Lady Amos added that the Government want to maintain dialogue with Zimbabwe and said:

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Is not part of the problem that Ministers have remarked more than once that Robert Mugabe came to power by democratic means? Surely the lesson of history is that some of the very worst tyrants, including arguably Adolf Hitler, originally came to power by largely democratic means. That cannot be a justification for what is happening now.

Dr. Lewis: It is certainly true that the system in Zimbabwe seems to be a parody of democracy. Its leaders try to govern by means of institutions that look, on the face of it, as if they conform to democracy while actually being the merest send-up or perversion of democracy in the way that they operate.

I fear that the Foreign Office has consistently applied too much of a softly-softly approach. We saw the same sort of language back in April 2000, when The Independent quoted British officials as claiming that the Cairo meeting between the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), and Mr. Mugabe had restored relations to

and that Mugabe would lessen his criticism of UK Ministers if the Government would

about him. That is not the approach that is required, or that we were led to expect when the Prime Minister said in May:

In June, the Foreign Office said in a press release:

In a leaked memorandum entitled "Touchstone Issues" and published in The Times on 18 July last year, the Prime Minister admitted that the Government is seen as "insufficiently assertive on Zimbabwe".

It is not assertions that Zimbabwe needs, but effective action. It is hard to believe that right up until recently the deportations of people back to Zimbabwe were continuing at a heavy pace. The Refugee Council expressed serious concern that the Home Office's assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe was so out of date that it was only under severe pressure from the council—and, I might add, from the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—the Home Secretary suspended deportations of people back into the hands of the Mugabe regime.

There has been much talk about what measures could be applied. We hear that smart sanctions are under consideration by the European Union and America, and

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that the Commonwealth is expected to consider calls for Zimbabwe's suspension. Where is the voice of Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in all this? For that matter, where is the practical action by our Prime Minister, who memorably told the Labour party conference last year that

On 14 January, Mugabe promised the Southern African Development Community that the presidential elections would be free and fair, and that recent cases of political violence would be "fully and impartially investigated". Apparently, that was good enough for the President of Malawi, the chairman of the SADC, who said:

After that regional summit in Malawi, Mugabe boasted:

and he claimed that he would like "free and fair" presidential elections to go ahead. That was also enough for South Africa's deputy Foreign Minister, who said that there was no alternative to using "quiet diplomacy" to persuade Mugabe to restore the rule of law. He said:

That is in stark contrast to Morgan Tsvangirai's call for South Africa to impose direct sanctions on Zimbabwe by cutting transport links and stopping fuel and electricity supplies. That call will evidently fall on deaf ears.

The sad fact is that the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has achieved more effective action against Robert Mugabe than the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the EU and the Governments of Britain and South Africa put together. Basildon Peta, the head of the free journalists in Zimbabwe, has stated that the EU, the UN, Britain and the Commonwealth have done precisely nothing. He said:

He also said:

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis: I am bringing my remarks to a conclusion, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Tony Worthington: The hon. Gentleman's speech has contained some fine rhetoric, but he has not yet said what he would do. Before he brings his remarks to a conclusion, will he say what he would do?

Dr. Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have said that tough sanctions should be

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brought into play. I may be somewhat ahead of my party's position, because I would not rule out direct intervention in the event that this dictatorship is not seen to bring matters back into a constitutional position.

Tony Worthington rose

Dr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman will have his chance to contribute shortly. I want to develop the point that I was about to make when he intervened.

I am glad that the Under–Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), will respond to the debate, because as he knows I consistently supported the Government when they took action against tough regimes. He has remarked on that fact to me, and I am grateful that he acknowledges my support. I supported the Government over Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, and I hope, in the not too distant future, to be able to support the Government over Zimbabwe as well.

I began by drawing a parallel between Mugabe's regime and Nazism, and I want to go back to that to conclude my speech. Desmond Tutu has rightly described the Zimbabwean political leadership as having gone

That reminded me of the famous despatch that our ambassador in Germany sent back as early as June 1933, only a few months after Hitler had come to power. The ambassador, Sir Horace Rumbold, was retiring and was sadly about to be replaced by an appeaser. In his valedictory address, he said:

His recommendation then was that Hitler should not be appeased. Our recommendation now is that Mugabe should not be appeased either.

9.47 am

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I agree with a surprising amount of what the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) said, but it is the duty of Opposition Members to be specific about what they would do. He claimed that Morgan Tsvangirai was in favour of sanctions, but as I understand his statements, his appeal is that they should be targeted against Mugabe and his narrow band of people who are looting the country.

When the hon. Gentleman says that he does not rule out direct intervention, he should explain what that means. Does he want British intervention? Should any intervention be under the United Nations or should it be regional intervention? That should be spelt out. For all his rhetoric, the hon. Gentleman has not made it clear how his position differs from that of the Government.

I shall be honest about this and admit that this problem is an embarrassment. Something is going on in the heart of Africa. The British reaction—not the Labour party's—to the situation in this previously and still potentially prosperous country has been muted. That is because, for a long time, we believed

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that any intervention by this country would be counterproductive. If we protested, we would be seen as intervening on behalf of white farmers in that country, and that would feed into Mugabe's rhetoric. I think that we were wrong, because the main sufferers have been poor blacks, and they are suffering more and more.

Our reticence has had some strange side effects. If we had realised the depths of Mugabe's iniquities, we would have protested more effectively, and would not have been returning opposition people to Zimbabwe. There is a great deal of difference between protesting and taking effective action.

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is a potentially prosperous country which Mugabe is progressively destroying, institution by institution. That is what is suggested when a chief officer in the army threatens a coup if the opposition win, when the judiciary is packed with Mugabe supporters, when the police stand by while atrocities occur, and when there are attacks on the opposition. Wherever there are abuses of human rights, we must protest. I was delighted to hear a Tory Member call for an ethical dimension to foreign policy, and I hope that he will spread his influence among his colleagues.

Dr. Lewis: I will do my best

Tony Worthington: It must be pointed out that the main losers in Zimbabwe are poor blacks, and that the need for humanitarian aid is mounting as the economy collapses. Nearly 100 members and supporters of the MDC have been killed, and thousands have been tortured, maimed and raped by ZANU-PF supporters. That can be authenticated.

We should praise the sheer courage of opposition politicians who are risking all for democratic government. Last Saturday, 10,000 MDC supporters turned up for a peaceful rally at the White City stadium. The rally was cancelled, and 25 MDC supporters were tortured and hospitalised by ZANU-PF supporters while police stood by. That is outrageous. We can already see that these are not free and fair elections, because of the intimidation that has already occurred.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East referred to the violence and corruption, and to people being forced to buy ZANU-PF cards in order to go about their daily business. That, too, is outrageous, as are the laws that are being passed. I was interested to read this morning that it is intended to proceed with the restriction on press freedom that was postponed for a short time. Recently an Act was passed, the General Laws (Amendment) Act 2002, which it is estimated will disfranchise more than 1.5 million people. Postal voting from overseas is being restricted to those who are effectively in the Government's employ. Those in rural areas can vote only if the local headman will vouch for them: in other words, they must be approved by Mugabe. The impact of the licensing of Zimbabwean journalists could not be clearer.

It is plain, then, that Mugabe has no intention of holding free and fair elections. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, he has broken the promises that he made at the Abuja meeting in September. He has already failed to take the action required of him by SADC members on

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15 January. We can see that he will break the promise made just last weekend to President Osabanjo of Nigeria that he would stop all election violence immediately.

Mugabe claims that what is happening is British interference, but that is not true. It cannot be British interference that has caused 2,500 people to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa each day. That is the official figure; I suspect that the actual figure is far higher. The Independent estimates that there are now some 400,000 Zimbabweans in this country. Many are here illegally, but the fact that they are avoiding the tyranny in Zimbabwe cannot be due to British action.

I am sure that African leaders are increasingly realising what an enemy of Africa Mugabe is. It is not Britain but poverty-stricken Zimbabwe that is damaged by his action. Assistance from the World bank, the African development bank and the European investment bank has already been withdrawn from Zimbabwe, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the inflation levels are frightening: the latest recorded figure is 112 per cent.

In June last year, the European Union invoked article 8 of the Cotonou agreement. After all, why should our assistance go to a Government who stimulate political violence, do not allow election monitoring, have ended freedom of the media and judicial independence, and have allowed and even encouraged the illegal occupation of property? At the meeting of the General Affairs Council of the European Union on 28 January, the EU must agree to use every possible means to target the corrupt resources of Mugabe and his narrow group, and to make their lives as difficult as possible by forbidding them to travel.

We have a bad record on the issue of corrupt leaders and their resources—leaders such as Abacha, Mobutu, Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. We must now see whether all the laws passed in the world since 11 September to prevent money laundering work. They must be imposed rigorously against Mugabe. I am sure that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe will rejoice if he can be prevented from gaining access to the looted resources that he has gained from not only his own country, but the Congo.

Sanctions, however, must be targeted; they must not be general. We have learned over and over again that when we impose general sanctions, the victims of such people as Mugabe become double victims. Sanctions, among other things, set up black markets and give power to supporters of Mugabe and the like, so that they look after themselves and those outside the network lose further.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Sanctions were imposed on Libya to force it to give up the Lockerbie bombers. Libya is now a close ally of Mugabe. Perhaps the success of those sanctions will cause the Libyans to advise him to pay a great deal more attention to what we are suggesting.

Tony Worthington: Believing that requires a considerable leap of faith. It is touching that the hon.

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Gentleman believes it, but I think that it would be difficult for him to find anyone else who considers that Gaddafi's influence will be crucial in this instance.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): The hon. Gentleman should not dismiss Gaddafi's influence so lightly. There is evidence that he has contributed about half a million pounds to Mugabe's election expenses so far. Moreover, there are reports of Libyans being granted fertile land, particularly in areas near Harare. The hon. Gentleman underestimates the potential influence of Gaddafi and the Libyans at his peril.

Tony Worthington: This is becoming a little esoteric. The fact is that general sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe would mostly damage those who have already been damaged by Mugabe's activities. I find it difficult to identify any imposition of general sanctions in the world that has been really effective. Where they have been effective, for instance in South Africa, it has taken decades. We want our action to be effective a little more quickly than that.

There is no doubt that there should be targeted sanctions. The International Development Committee has considered what are often described as smart sanctions, although there is not too much smartness around. I hope that the legislation that has been introduced around the world by an enormous number of organisations can be proved to work in the case of Mugabe.

We must continue the pressure for an end to political violence, and for unrestricted access to election monitors. I believe that the exertion of pressure by the European Union can be a huge advantage. One of our problems is that Mugabe uses our colonial past against us. He cannot do the same to the 15 countries of the European Union. This is a good example of the way in which the EU's foreign policy activity can be very helpful to us. I am surprised—although perhaps not—that the hon. Member for New Forest, East rather down-played the contribution that can be made by the EU.

The African countries must now fully punch their weight, especially South Africa. It is losing because of Mugabe. From Mugabe, we must have only action. The illegal seizure of lands must cease. The recent judgment by his court that illegal seizures of white-owned land were justified must be reversed. There must be invitations immediately to international observers from bodies such as the Commonwealth and the EU. He must let international journalists, including from the BBC, back into the country.

We must intensify that pressure in any way we can without harming the ordinary people of the country. The whole international community, regardless of colour or race, must tell Mugabe that his behaviour is leading his country into total wilderness.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook): Order. It may be for the benefit of the Chamber if I ask right hon. and hon. Members to call to mind that the general convention at sittings is to ask the three Front-Bench spokesmen to commence winding up 30 minutes before

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the termination of the debate. I ask those participating to bear that in mind and to make their contributions concise, clear and pertinent.

10.1 am

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): The Chamber owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) for raising this issue and for the way in which he has introduced the subject. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) and welcome the tone of his contribution. It is encouraging that there is growing consensus. I hope that we can approach the issue with as little partisan spirit as possible.

Why does the great issue of Zimbabwe matter to us? It matters because of our history, our connections and our historic obligations to it, and because of its strategic importance. It is at the centre of southern Africa. What is happening there is contaminating and destabilising the whole region. Therefore, for every reason that one can think of, it is in Britain's interest and a matter of honour and obligation to do whatever we can to assist the beleaguered people of Zimbabwe.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie have talked about what is happening in Zimbabwe. It is now a matter of public record and without contest that matters are descending ever further into what amounts to—it sounds like a paradox but it is not—state-sponsored anarchy. It brings to mind what Mao Tse-Tung did in China in the 1960s—an ageing despot increasingly out of touch with his people, with the world moving on beyond him. Like Mao, Mugabe is unleashing the forces of anarchy, effectively declaring war on his own people and deliberately subverting the rule of law. He has only one objective. It is nothing to do with land; we all know that. There is an issue with land but it can be dealt with sensibly. This is about one thing only: power. It is about that ageing despot clinging to power. He will do anything to accomplish that.

We have heard the saga of murder, beating, invasions, systematic brutality and the way in which the economy is being deliberately subverted and disrupted, so that there is widespread shortage of food and starvation in many parts of the country. I have visited Zimbabwe twice in the past 18 months, the last time in February. I had the privilege of meeting so many amazingly brave, fine people who are striving to make their country better. Whether they are white or black, they all think of themselves, rightly, as Zimbabweans. It is their heritage, their country, and they feel that it is being taken away from them.

During a tour of the high-density suburbs of Harare, I was guided around by a wonderful man called Wilfred, who had been a senior commander in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army under Mugabe. He was a genuine war veteran. A lot of people who are described as war veterans are not. They are plainly too young to have been anything other than toddlers in arms at the time of the so-called war of liberation.

Wilfred said, "This is not what we fought for. What is going on at the moment is as bad or worse than anything we suffered under the old Smith regime." These people have a sense of betrayal and a desire to move on from the past and to make their own lives. Wilfred had become an

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entrepreneur: he was running his own business and trying to make a success of it in appalling circumstances. We must all move on from the post-colonial guilt which sometimes overhangs our approach to black African countries. Certainly most Zimbabweans have moved well past post-colonial resentment, which undoubtedly had an effect.

What can Britain do? We must speak out. We must make our voice heard unequivocally. Britain has not always done that since matters began to deteriorate in February 2000. The Minister's colleague, the current Minister for Europe, did speak out when he had responsibility for these matters. I praised him on many occasions for doing so. Sometimes one felt that he was not entirely in accord with the Foreign Secretary at the time, but he was right to do so. With his background of anti-apartheid campaigning he perhaps had almost unique authority and credibility to speak out in that way, but I would like to hear the same clarity of articulation from the current Minister.

Too often, the argument that we must pursue quiet diplomacy and not disrupt our influence by being counter-productive has degenerated into what an Australian Prime Minister called the pre-emptive cringe. We must beware of that. We owe it to Zimbabwe to speak out.

The pre-emptive cringe reached its culmination in the Abuja agreement in early September. We must be clear about it: that was a sham. Mugabe agreed to that agreement for one reason only: to get himself into what was going to be the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane. As we know, that has been postponed but it was transparently obvious that that was what it was about: buying time to allow him to strut his stuff in front of the world's media at the Brisbane meeting.

It was clear, even in the few days between that agreement and the events of 11 September, which caused the postponement of the meeting, that nothing was being done to implement it. In fact, all the reports I had from Zimbabwe said that, even in the few days immediately after the agreement, matters were getting worse: the intimidation was being intensified.

That shows that Mugabe cares about the Commonwealth, about being able to be part of that important organisation, and about the veneer of respectability that continued membership confers upon him. I urge the Minister to use all Britain's considerable influence to ensure that at the reinstated CHOGM in a few weeks or couple of months, Mugabe is not allowed to make a grand entrance.

We saw the damage last year when Mugabe was given the full red carpet treatment by President Chirac in France and by the Belgian Prime Minister. The propaganda coup that that gave him in Zimbabwe was considerable. We must beware of that. He must be denied the propaganda oxygen that continued membership of the Commonwealth confers on him and his regime.

What can be done now? Aid has been reduced. We do not like that but it is obviously necessary. The military advisory team has been removed. That was the one thing that people in Zimbabwe said to me they did not want. They saw the presence of even a small contingent of British troops there as a stabilising influence on the

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army. I revert to the points that were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) and for East Devon (Mr. Swire) about the effect of Libya. The small vacuum created when the British military advisory and training team left last year has been filled by Libyans. My impression is that Zimbabwe is stiff with Libyans these days, and that some of the slack has been taken up by advisers from China's People's Liberation Army. Taking the BMAT team away as a modest gesture of protest has therefore had an unfortunate effect.

What can be done? The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie mentioned targeted sanctions, as did my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East. That option must be the answer, as my party has urged for many months. It is not necessarily a matter of targeting sanctions against Mugabe himself. Morgan Tsvangirai has always told me that it is a mistake to focus all the action against Mugabe, and that attention should be turned to the gangsters who surround him and sustain him in power.

The number of such people—about 20—is not huge. They could be subject to financial sanctions, and their assets could be examined. They should not be allowed to travel, and their histories of wrongdoing, which largely go back to the Matabeleland massacres of the early 1980s, could be investigated. It has taken a long time to make any progress on such matters, even to talk about suspending the Mugabe regime from the Commonwealth. I am glad that that is at least being discussed now, but we must move in the direction of targeted sanctions against individuals.

What of Mugabe himself? If he departs voluntarily, what should our attitude be? I suspect that it would stick in everyone's gullet if Mugabe were allowed to slip off to a cosy and quiet retirement home in Libya or some other chosen location. However, it is in the overwhelming interests of Zimbabweans that he should leave. The price that has to be paid for seeing him leave voluntarily might be that a line has to be drawn under his regime of tyrannous misdeeds. However, all my contacts and knowledge lead me to believe that most Zimbabweans would joyfully pay that price. Of course, there will be a human desire for vengeance and retribution, but people in Zimbabwe just want to see the back of Mugabe and to get their country back. They will accept drawing a line under his personal misdeeds if that means that he leaves voluntarily and quickly. We should therefore be sufficiently realistic and grown up to accept that that would be a price well worth paying.

We must be aware of the danger that the threat of endless pursuit of Mugabe, into his old age and wherever he is, is likely to make him more desirous of clinging to power. We should be aware of the danger that, like a wounded and cornered animal, he would be willing to do anything for that.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie spoke of the presidential election. We must abandon the pretence that there is any prospect that it will be free and fair. It cannot be, even though the Zimbabwean Parliament is discussing the media law today. The other laws that have been passed, the gerrymandering and the systematic intimidation of those who oppose Mugabe make it unrealistic that the election could be free and

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fair. Even the presence of monitors would not change that. Their investigations could only provide more incontrovertible evidence of what has been going on, if that were needed.

However, that is not to say that the elections will be won by Mugabe. The parliamentary elections 18 months ago were subject to gerrymandering, intimidation and vote-rigging—every tool of the dictator was deployed to secure victory, but he only just managed it. Many Zimbabweans will have taken heart from that, and seen that they have the power to make a difference, despite all that is being done by Mugabe. We therefore should not simply assume that Mugabe will succeed in his aims. He may very well not succeed, and if he loses the election and tries to cling to power, Britain and the international community will have some difficult questions to answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East raised the possibility of intervention. We should not be mealy-mouthed about the fact that that would result in hair-raising problems for Britain. However, it would be impossible for Britain and the international community to stand aside and allow to remain in power someone who has lost an election even though everything was in his favour.

My plea to the Government is that they should lead international opinion and use Britain's influence in the world to good effect. They should spend some of the international political capital that the Prime Minister has undoubtedly accrued in recent months to help the people of Zimbabwe. The country could be incredibly prosperous and stable. It has some of the best educated and most literate people in Africa, and it could be a fantastic success story.

Britain should use its influence to make a difference in what is a very good cause. We have obligations of honour and history to Zimbabwe, and we must discharge them.

10.16 am

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I shall try to make my comments as brief as possible.

It seems to me that Zimbabwe challenges the ways in which the Commonwealth and the Government put principles into practice. I should like hon. Members to consider a simple and straightforward statement from the Under–Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who is responding to the debate. Answering an oral question a couple of weeks ago, he said that the Government welcomed the public reiteration by Pakistan's President Musharraf of his commitment to stick to his road map to democracy and to hold national and provincial elections by October 2002. Yet Pakistan is still suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth, while Zimbabwe is not.

Pakistan was suspended immediately under the Millbrook terms. Since then, at the Commonwealth ministerial action group on the Harare declaration in Durban, it was recommended that Pakistan remain suspended until democracy was restored there. The Millbrook terms are unambiguous: they state that once a suspended country returns to the Commonwealth it

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Although Pakistan is making progress towards democracy, it remains suspended from the Commonwealth. In contrast, Zimbabwe—which is introducing the strikingly undemocratic Public Order and Security Bill and other legislation—has had no action taken against it by the Commonwealth. Such double standards do not reflect well on the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe is also challenging the way in which the UK Government respond. The Department for International Development has reduced overall development aid to Zimbabwe in the past year, but the total amount is still larger than it was in 1997, when the Government came into office. The Department's most recent report states that development aid should be

It added that the Government

It is clear that the DFID principles regard improving democracy as a totem for supporting development aid, but that is not happening in Zimbabwe.

The Government's support for the land reform programme in Zimbabwe is very confused. Indeed, that programme, more than any of DFID's other programmes, puts into sharp relief the confusion of the Government's approach to Zimbabwe, democracy and development principles.

The communiqué from the Abuja agreement last September rightly observed that

and democracy. The same communiqué also refers to the UK Government's financial involvement in land reform and welcomes the

That would be welcome if the land reform programme remotely assisted poverty reduction. It does not. The Zimbabwean Government's "fast-track" land reform programme is not fair land reform. It does not meet the Abuja agreement terms and it does not deserve bilateral aid from the Government.

A paper presented last year to the Southern African Regional Poverty Network asserts that the situation for huge numbers of farm workers in Zimbabwe

As the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said, the solutions in respect of Zimbabwe are not easy, but I believe that if we are to have statements of principle, whether from the Commonwealth or from the Prime Minister speaking, as he did recently, in India about the need to support democracy, we must be consistent. Neither the Commonwealth nor the United Kingdom Government are being consistent in their approach to Zimbabwe in putting principles into practice. That is bad for the

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people in Zimbabwe where, tragically, 500,000 people now face starvation, bad for general support for the Commonwealth and bad for the integrity of international development.

10.21 am

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): This is the second time that I have taken part in a debate on Zimbabwe, and I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak. While I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), deplore the actions of President Mugabe and his supporters, I wish to speak, in the time remaining to me, mainly about the plight of those ordinary citizens who are suffering from Mugabe's mismanagement of the economy.

Zimbabwe has traditionally been seen as the most industrialised country in the southern African region, and one which has traditionally produced a grain surplus. However, it is now clear that under President Mugabe's mismanagement the economy is in crisis. There is a grain shortage and hundreds of thousands of people face starvation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) commented, according to the World Food Programme, more than 550,000 people in the far north-west and south of the country now face severe food shortages.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website states:

More than 80 per cent. of financial transactions that pass through institutions in Zimbabwe pass through institutions that are owned or managed by whites, practically all of whom oppose ZANU.

The project document that accompanies the latest emergency operation in Zimbabwe from the World Food Programme states:

The project document provides the following worrying evidence:

The document states that the reason is that

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I am arguing that according to local experts, the only country in southern Africa with a grain surplus—and a narrow one at that—is now South Africa. One Harare-based economist told BBC News Online that the Zimbabwean Government had

The scandal does not end at Government mismanagement. According to the state-owned Herald newspaper:

While the people starve, the Government are seizing food to feed Mugabe's henchmen. That scandal cannot be allowed to continue. I ask the Minister, what are the British Government doing to ensure that pressure is put on President Mugabe to allow that vital aid to reach those people who need it the most?

President Mugabe turns 78 next month and he is reputed to be in failing health. According to a report in Africa Confidential on Vice-President Simon Muzenda's birthday last October, Mugabe said:

As that report depressingly concludes:

10.27 am

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The debate has been short but notable, not simply because of the degree of unanimity across the Chamber but because it is the first time that I have heard Peter Tatchell and Bertolt Brecht quoted with approval by Conservative Members.

I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on obtaining the debate, but we should not need to have it. The only reason that we are having it, as the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said, is because of Mr. Mugabe's determination to retain the presidency of his country at all costs—indeed, at any cost, as long as that cost is borne by his countrymen and women.

In this country, to some extent, our focus has been on the plight of white farmers, some of whom have bloodcurdling stories to tell of intimidation and violence. I suspect that I am not the only Member in the Chamber today who has received representations from constituents with relations in Zimbabwe. I do not propose to mention any names, for fear of further persecution, but some of the personal stories that have been relayed to me in letters and e-mails and by other means are extremely distressing.

Black citizens also suffer in Zimbabwe. The farm workers, some of whom have spent generations on one farm, are not the beneficiaries of some benevolent form

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of land redistribution. They have become the consequential, and sometimes frightened, victims of illegal land appropriation. The legitimate political rights of black citizens have been removed.

It is clear that Mr. Mugabe does not believe in apartheid: when it comes to damaging the interests of citizens of Zimbabwe, he does not discriminate against them because of the colour of their skins. A feature of his behaviour has been the agreements entered into and the undertakings given that have been abandoned before their ink has dried. Reference has already been made to the empty sham of the Abuja agreement, which, as the right hon. Member for Horsham rightly said, was designed to try to ensure that Mr. Mugabe could take his place at Brisbane.

The Mugabe Government are still characterised by intimidation of the judiciary, the expulsion of independent journalists, the persecution of their political opponents and the introduction of repressive legislation, with one purpose only: to secure Mr. Mugabe's re-election. There is nothing more repressive than the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill—Orwellian in conception and, no doubt, totalitarian in application. There are reports in a national newspaper today of anxiety in the ranks of members of ZANU-PF, which suggest that the consideration of that Bill has been adjourned because of those very anxieties.

In truth, Mr. Mugabe ought to be grateful for that delay, because the Bill would create an offence of causing fear, alarm and despondency. If anyone has caused fear, alarm and despondency in Zimbabwe, it is Mr. Mugabe himself. He has engendered the same consequences throughout southern Africa, which caused Mr. Mbeki—until now, by no means a trenchant critic of the Mugabe regime—to say on 21 January:

For months, there has been an overwhelming case for sanctions, targeted against the elite surrounding Mr. Mugabe. I do not for a moment pretend that the simple imposition of those sanctions would, overnight, restore Zimbabwe to the kind of democracy that we would all hope it to be, but restrictions on bank accounts and travel should be in place now. If we need any example, we have only to look across the Atlantic to the United States Congress, which has passed legislation in both Houses to allow the President to implement such sanctions were he to consider them appropriate.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East mentioned the possibility of direct intervention. He is right to say that he has supported direct intervention in other places, but direct intervention in Zimbabwe would be extremely difficult both from a political and a military point of view. Which of the surrounding countries would be the obvious candidate to give us host-nation military support? We could hardly conduct operations in Zimbabwe all the way from Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham. Which of those countries would be willing to give us the political support on which it would be necessary to base the moral authority for intervention?

Again, as the right hon. Member for Horsham rightly says, if Mr. Tsvangirai and his brave colleagues are successful in the presidential election but Mr. Mugabe

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refuses to accept the result, very difficult questions will shortly present themselves not just to our Government, but to those of the European Union and perhaps to the United Nations.

Zimbabwe stands on the edge of the abyss. The breakdown in law and order is palpable. As we have already heard, grain shortages are acute—3 million people have registered for food relief and almost 600,000 people in the countryside are now considered to be at risk of starvation. Inflation runs at more than 100 per cent. Unemployment stands at 60 per cent. Three quarters of the people of Zimbabwe live in poverty. It is estimated that 25 per cent. of the population may have HIV. It is further estimated that 2 million Zimbabweans have fled illegally to South Africa.

If we talk about direct intervention and applying sanctions other than in a targeted way, we must remember that a possible consequence will be a further flight to the south from Zimbabwe. That would place enormous strains on the South African economy, which has suffered from a reduction in inward investment and a decline in the value of its currency as a result of the very instability and lack of confidence that Mugabe's behaviour has created.

We are talking about someone who ignores the condemnation of Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela—hardly 21st century defenders of British colonial rule in the past two centuries. Their independence is not in doubt, yet Mr. Mugabe seeks to bolster his position with oppressive legislation that undermines the human rights of every citizen of his country.

I believe that Zimbabwe under Mr. Mugabe has forfeited its right to membership of the Commonwealth. When the Commonwealth leaders meet in Brisbane on 2 March, unless material improvement has been demonstrated, their duty is clear: suspension, with the credible threat of expulsion, is the minimum necessary.

10.36 am

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on securing this debate and on the robust and effective way in which he opened it. This is a most timely and important debate on what all hon. Members agree is a matter of enormous importance, not only for the people of Zimbabwe but for southern Africa generally and the wider international community. He made a powerful case, and we are all grateful to him for doing so.

It is shameful, however, that for the third time in as many months this subject is being debated at the instigation of an Opposition Member. It would certainly not be taking place if it were left to the Government to initiate such a debate. For the Government, this is an international crisis that they wish they could pass by on the other side. This impending catastrophe challenges the last vestiges of their ethical foreign policy, and I suspect that it will prove the graveyard of that ethical foreign policy. The Government's reluctance to face up to this spiralling disaster, to take any initiative or, indeed, to do anything, other than wring their hands and talk about talks, is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility. I do not blame the Minister. I blame his boss, the Foreign Secretary, and the Prime Minister, too, because they have simply dodged this issue.

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Let us be clear: we are not debating a far-off problem of which we know little. We know Zimbabwe well; we know it much better than we knew Bosnia or Kosovo. We know that Zimbabwe faces a growing nightmare of fascism, the destruction of democracy, the suspension and abrogation of human rights and the undermining of justice and the rule of law. We know that it faces a growing humanitarian crisis, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for East Devon (Mr. Swire).

We know, too, that the birth of this new rogue state is already responsible for an economic downturn among Zimbabwe's immediate neighbours, not least South Africa. The usual suspects of the rogue-state brigade—not least Libya, as we have been reminded this morning—are already eyeing Zimbabwe with anticipation. The Government's response has been, if I recall the phrase rightly, one of "quiet diplomacy"—to do nothing, and nothing is what they have done. However, doing nothing in the face of evil is not an option.

We should not be squeamish about what is happening in Zimbabwe. In the past year, there have been 48 political murders, 329 abductions, 2,245 cases of torture and 992 cases of unlawful detention. Foreign journalists have been labelled as terrorists. Draconian laws have been introduced to block basic democratic freedoms of expression and assembly. Every day, 2,500 Zimbabwean refugees are now entering South Africa. The rand has suffered and much-needed investment in the region has been lost. In short, Zimbabwe is collapsing internally, and externally it is exercising an increasingly malign influence. The international community cannot stand idly by.

For some time, Conservative Members have been pointing the way. Our calls are not new. In March last year, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who made such a strong speech, attacked the Government's "supine inaction" and urged

I remind hon. Members that my right hon. Friend was mocked by the Government for making those suggestions. Yet despite the previous Foreign Secretary deriding him then and the current Foreign Secretary deriding me now for proposing targeted sanctions against Mugabe, his henchmen and their ill-gotten foreign stashes, there are at last faint signs that the Government are beginning timidly to give support to those—including the United States, which has been robust on this matter for a long time, and now Europe—who are now moving in this direction.

Bringing Mugabe to book even at this eleventh hour must be the immediate objective. He must be brought to see the downside of ignoring the democratic norm and the weight of international opinion behind it. With our associations with Zimbabwe, we can no longer shelter behind the lily-livered shield of post-colonial sensitivity. It did not stop the Prime Minister jumping in with both feet in India to offer advice on Kashmir, so why are we so sensitive about Zimbabwe? If we have a constructive contribution to make—I believe that we have—we should make it and not just talk about it.

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Action cannot wait. It is clear that President Mugabe has no intention of keeping his promises to ensure free and fair elections. Already this week, we have seen the first Movement for Democratic Change rally of the presidential campaign tear-gassed by the police. That will not be the last time that we see that.

We know that international action must, above all, involve Zimbabwe's long-suffering neighbours, especially South Africa. In the end, they can exert the greatest pressure on Mugabe and his henchmen. What assistance are the Government offering those countries that we must seek to bring into the international coalition to deal with this problem? In the other great international coalition, both Pakistan and India have received substantial packages of support, so what proposals does the Minister have for south African countries whose assistance we also need?

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) asked what action could be taken. He must have heard from many speakers that the actions that we can take are now clear. They include international sanctions targeted personally against Zimbabwe's elite and, as the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, suspension from the Commonwealth. They also include suspension from the Southern African Development Community and from other organisations that convey respectability. What action are the Government taking to initiate such procedures? In the event of other developments, such as the rumoured possibility of an army takeover and the postponement of the presidential elections, can the Government tell us what contingent response has been prepared to meet such a situation?

A lot can be done, so why are the Government still dragging their feet? It is not for the want of fine words. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East reminded us what the Prime Minister said in his great "I will mend the world" speech that he delivered to the Labour party conference in October. It worth recalling the words that he used. He talked about

"No tolerance". Strong words, but what did they mean? From the inaction that we have seen, they were not worth the breath with which they were uttered. They created false hope that has now been dashed by "supine inaction". That inaction continues.

The Foreign Secretary goes to central Africa, where he is today, but he does not go anywhere near Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister—the man who spoke of "no tolerance"—goes to Africa later this month or early next month and we are told that he too will give Zimbabwe a wide berth. Once again, there will be more talks—of that we can be sure—but Zimbabwe does not need more talks. It needs action.

I should like to quote a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, who said this week:

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A spokesman of the MDC said recently:

Never again—that should be the wake-up call to this Government, whose inaction on Zimbabwe to date has been a disgrace and a betrayal of the values for which this country should stand.

We owe Zimbabwe our support. There is still time—just. If the Foreign Secretary has not the stomach for this task, he should make way for someone who does.

10.45 am

The Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I congratulate the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on proposing this debate. I am aware of his close personal interest in Zimbabwe. His usual eloquently expressed concern is shared by many in the House and in the country at large.

I was also extremely grateful for the contribution of the former shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), and the particular stress that he placed on the importance and the greater effectiveness of the House approaching the problems in Zimbabwe in a bipartisan spirit. I am only sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), did not enter into the same spirit. To claim that the Government have done nothing does him no credit.

All hon. Members have stressed the need for tough action. We agree with that. However, our approach to Zimbabwe must put Zimbabweans first. That means that, when it comes to combating the abuses of the Mugabe regime, we should act rationally and effectively. Whatever the right hon. Member for Devizes says, in his heart of hearts he must recognise that the Government's long-held view—that we act best when we act with our international friends—is the most effective strategy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said, the importance of international action is paramount. It is vital that we do not play into President Mugabe's hands and allow him to portray this as a neo-colonial struggle with Britain.

The Government believe that their efforts to build a strong international consensus on Zimbabwe has borne fruit. The European Union has tried constructive engagement with Zimbabwe for 10 months, and there has been no response. On 11 January, the EU gave the Zimbabwean Government seven days to take immediate action on election observers and free access for the international media, but their response has been neither specific nor satisfactory. EU Foreign Ministers now have no choice but to discuss appropriate measures against Zimbabwe at their meeting on 28 January. In their deliberations, they will also consider the views of members of Zimbabwe's civil society and opposition parties, all of whom are keen to ensure maximum international scrutiny of the presidential elections.

On 20 December, the Commonwealth ministerial action group—CMAG—condemned Zimbabwe's serious and persistent violations of the fundamental values of the Commonwealth. The group put Zimbabwe

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on its formal agenda, ensuring that Zimbabwe's status in the Commonwealth will be debated at the Heads of Government meeting in Australia in March. CMAG Ministers will discuss a recommendation to suspend Zimbabwe from the organisation at their meeting in London on 30 January. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear on 8 January that Britain would argue for Zimbabwe's suspension if conditions continued to deteriorate. Well, they have. Britain shares the view of Australia and others that countries that violate the values of the Commonwealth should not have a seat at that table.

The United States and other countries are also considering measures. They have not taken concrete steps yet, because—like us—they have been listening closely to the views of representative groups in Zimbabwe and have wanted to act in international concert. However, the US Government's line on Zimbabwe is strong, principled and unambiguous, and we welcome it.

During last November's passage of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, the United States Congress set out a clear bipartisan view that Zimbabwe's fundamental problems are not about land or black majority versus white minority interests; nor are they about unfinished colonial business. Congress made it clear that the problems arise from the Government of Zimbabwe's authoritarianism and political violence. The support of the Bush Administration for that Act sends a clear message to the Government of Zimbabwe about the political consequences of their actions, and American views on that are close to those of the European Union.

Several right hon. and hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife (Mr. Campbell), described the Abuja agreement as a sham. The Government accept that it has failed, but we still believe that it was worth getting an agreement to lock the fellow African countries into the process and make the international consensus on Zimbabwe more effective. As the shadow Foreign Secretary admitted, that approach is vital.

I was going to describe the picture in Zimbabwe as it has developed since 27 November, but to be perfectly honest I would rather concentrate on other matters in the short time available. In any case, the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe was eloquently described by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Devon, who made an excellent speech about the state of the Zimbabwean economy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, who painted a bleak but nevertheless accurate picture of it.

Some people ask why the countries of the region do not do more. It is easy for outsiders and for us to ask that question, but it is much more difficult for those in the region who make the decisions. The countries of southern Africa face the brunt of the breakdown in Zimbabwe and of Mugabe's misrule. They know what Zimbabwe's economic implosion would mean. They feel the effects of the collapse in investor confidence and know the bizarre reality that, by frightening away investors, the Government of Zimbabwe have effectively imposed sanctions on their country and the whole region.

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Indeed, President Mugabe's economic policy has crippled Zimbabwe's economy far more effectively than external sanctions ever could. The region knows that. Just as the world is warming to the idea of an African renaissance, Zimbabwe is trying to row the continent back to the bad old days of a one-party state. It is no wonder that the Southern African Development Community has taken action to express its concerns and to set out clear benchmarks for the Government of Zimbabwe's future conduct. To answer the question posed by the right hon. and learned Member for North–East Fife, the prospect of concerted regional action is growing.

In contrast to what the hon. Member for New Forest, East suggested, the United Nations Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have recently added their moral weight to the international consensus, which is a sign that events in Zimbabwe threaten peace and security in the region. Let me make it clear, however, that Britain's policy of international action has not stopped us acting or taking unilateral decisions if we think that that is right.

Mr. Swire: On unilateral action, what thought have the Government given to the aftermath of the election if Mugabe wins it, but it is deemed unfair, or to the alternative scenario in which Mugabe loses the election, but refuses to go?

Mr. Bradshaw: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I will not speculate about what might happen in one, two or three months' time. At the moment, it is vital that we concentrate on the immediate steps, which we are trying to make as international and multilateral as possible. I explained that some precipitative unilateral action will not work because it plays into President Mugabe's hands.

In recent weeks, we have seen reports of ZANU-PF thugs carrying out appalling atrocities against opposition supporters. We have seen efforts to deny the opposition the right to campaign and the media to report freely. We have seen reports of plans to rig the voting process and a statement by the chief of the Zimbabwean defence forces that the army would not support the opposition candidate even if he were the people's choice. The British Government unreservedly condemn those flagrant attacks on democratic principles and practice. The violations show that Zimbabwe's ruling party knows that it cannot win a free and fair election. Instead, it is choosing to rig the process and bludgeon its way through.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: I understand why the Minister declines to speculate, but if we are inviting countries surrounding Zimbabwe to be part of a political coalition that might have consequences for their economies, are we able to say that we will give them economic assistance if their economies are damaged because they have signed up to something that all hon. Members think is appropriate?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are holding detailed discussions with those countries and already provide economic assistance to many of them. We shall certainly give requests for help sympathetic consideration. International observers are a key to free and fair

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elections. The EU has insisted on the invitation and accreditation of international observers at least six weeks before the elections. The tragic truth about Zimbabwe's leaders is that they no longer offer constructive answers or desire genuine co-operation; they simply create more extreme problems and resort to ever more implausible allegations against outsiders.

There are those—we have heard their voices today—who say that the efforts of the international community to date have been too little, too late. I do not share that interpretation because it assumes that there could have been a magical solution if only we had tried harder to find it. The hon. Member for New Forest, East suggested that in this country that approach had something to do with a liberal-left guilt about colonialism. I have been on the same side as him in all the arguments about intervention since we have both been in the House, and I sincerely suggest that that is not the case. The issue is how we approach the problem most effectively, without playing into President Mugabe's hands. Some of the quotes that he gave, not least by Baroness Amos, who is the Minister with responsibility for sub-Saharan Africa, were out of date and did not reflect the progress that the Government have made.

It is our view that the only people who could have prevented the crisis, and still could prevent a meltdown, are those in positions of authority in Harare. Zimbabwe is a sovereign country. It runs its own affairs, but one thing is certain: the course being taken by the Government of Zimbabwe is unsustainable and, ultimately, self-defeating. Zimbabwe's leaders need to know that one day they will be held personally accountable for their stewardship.

Although we have focused on the present, we should not overlook the future. Let me reiterate the Government's strong desire to resume a close relationship with a democratic, open and forward-looking Zimbabwe. In the right conditions and with the right international support, Zimbabwe can again become a beacon of hope for Africa—stable, prosperous and a good neighbour. That will take time and effort, and we will continue to work to that end. We look to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and more widely, for support in that.

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