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3. Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): What recent discussions he has had with other members of the EU concerning the future of Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [30483]

4. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): When he next expects to meet other European Foreign Ministers to discuss the imposition of smart sanctions against members of Zimbabwe's Government. [30484]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 28 January, the European Union decided to impose targeted sanctions on senior members of the Government of Zimbabwe if they prevent the deployment of election observers between now and the election or prevent the international media from having proper access, or if there is a serious deterioration on the ground.

The first group of EU election observers has now been deployed, but I am under no illusions—the Government of Zimbabwe have moved this far only because of the

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international pressure that has been exerted on them, which must be maintained. The Government there will be judged by actions, not words.

Mr. Hoban: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his answer, but following the arrest, detention and now release of Basildon Peta, The Independent journalist in Zimbabwe, is it not time to trigger sanctions against Zimbabwe for preventing the international press from following the elections closely?

Mr. Straw: I wholly condemn the arrest and detention of Mr. Peta, even though he has now been released. He is an extremely courageous Zimbabwean journalist. I have asked for a full report from the British high commission in Harare on the circumstances of his arrest and detention, which I shall send to the EU Commission. I accept that it is evidence of a prima facie breach of the EU policy.

Our overall objective, however, is to work as far as we can to achieve a better environment in Zimbabwe in which fairer elections can take place. That continues to be difficult to achieve, but in my view it is a worthwhile objective, and I hope that it has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We are fully supported in that objective by the Opposition parties and non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe. Although it may be easy to suggest that we should cut off all relations or not send in observers, we should bear that objective very much in mind in every decision we make.

Mr. Bellingham: Does not the Foreign Secretary agree that the EU package is far too little too late? Since our last Foreign and Commonwealth questions, Opposition party members in Zimbabwe have been arrested, falsely imprisoned and tortured; some have even been murdered. Mugabe has forced laws through Parliament to restrict press freedoms that are much more draconian than anything in China, resulting in the imprisonment of Basildon Peta. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand why Opposition Members here are so angry about what is going on? Why does he have a blind spot for Zimbabwe? Surely the time has come for him to account for his shameful performance in a full-day debate in Government time.

Mr. Straw: The blind spot, I am afraid, is the blind spot of Opposition Members, especially those who adopt a policy of isolation from Europe and effective isolation from the multinational Commonwealth. If the Opposition had been in government, there would have been no possibility of any kind of Commonwealth backing to condemn what has been going on, and no possibility of any kind of backing by the Southern African Development Community to condemn what is going on—still less would there be any possibility of the European Union, having been hectored and lectured by the Opposition, drawing together not only to condemn what is going on in the fullest possible terms, as we have done, but to impose effective sanctions, if at any stage between now and election day or thereafter we do not believe that it has been possible to hold fair and free elections.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must be careful in judging the presidential elections? We must recognise that when parliamentary elections were last held in Zimbabwe, the pressure on

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Opposition parties lessened as the elections approached. Is it not important, therefore, that the observers look at what has happened in the past six months and, indeed, two years, as there has been a rapid erosion of democracy and true freedom in the tragic country of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I entirely accept that. When we reach an overall judgment about whether the elections were free and fair, we shall certainly have to take into account not just events from now on, but events in the preceding six to 12 months. It was precisely because of the history of election monitoring in Zimbabwe—in the past, election observers were allowed in only for the last few days—that the European Union, the Commonwealth and I insisted that election observers should start to be admitted now, five weeks before the elections, rather than just a few days before.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): Historically, has not the Commonwealth suspended members only in limited circumstances—for example, when a country has had a coup against an elected Government? Does not Zimbabwe provide an opportunity for the Commonwealth to reconsider the issue of suspension and widen the range of circumstances in which it might be considered?

Mr. Straw: My hon. and learned Friend is right. A key decision taken at the Commonwealth ministerial action group on 20 December was to widen the interpretation of the Harare principles, to which he refers. We declared before Christmas that Zimbabwe was in persistent violation of principles that, ironically, were drawn up in Harare in 1991 by President Mugabe. It is precisely because of that persistent violation of the principles that I judged that the Commonwealth, at the CMAG meeting last Wednesday, should suspend Zimbabwe immediately from the councils of the Commonwealth. As the House knows, that recommendation did not attract unanimous support from CMAG, so it fell, but we shall continue to pursue it. There is a further CMAG meeting on 1 March.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): May I say to the Foreign Secretary that his efforts of last week have the support of all Liberal Democrat Members? Do not the last few days demonstrate what is typical of Mr. Mugabe? He gave a minimalist response to the EU ultimatum on observers and at the same time arrested The Independent correspondent Basildon Peta—no doubt a deliberate attempt to intimidate like-minded people. If there is clear evidence of malpractice in the course of the presidential election, will the Foreign Secretary consider a withdrawal by Her Majesty's Government of recognition of the Government of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: We will certainly monitor robustly what is happening in Zimbabwe, and ensure that our monitoring, as with the arrest of Mr. Peta, is transmitted to the EU. There was unanimity around the room when we decided the sanction policy last Monday; 12 of the 15 member states spoke, and all 12 spoke in favour of the policy, which represents a sea change in attitudes towards Zimbabwe.

We—the European Union, the United States and our Commonwealth partners—are carefully watching what is happening in Zimbabwe. If we believe, notwithstanding the admission of observers and their report, that the

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elections were not conducted freely and fairly, then, yes, withdrawal of recognition of that Government is obviously a possibility.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): I was in South Africa early last month. One of the clear impressions that I gained from that visit, both from discussions and from following the local media, was that there is real concern about the impact of developments in Zimbabwe on South Africa, a strong belief that a solution to the problems of Zimbabwe lay within southern Africa, and that the countries of southern Africa should take the lead in any solution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the ex-colonial power that failed to stop a rebellion in Zimbabwe, we should listen closely to the Governments of southern Africa before taking any action in respect of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to say that, in addition to Zimbabwe, the economies and reputations of the countries of southern Africa have been most grievously damaged by the policies of President Mugabe. Anybody who needs any reassurance about that need only look at what has happened to the South African rand over the past year, the decline of which tracks almost exactly the decline in human rights in Zimbabwe.

Yes, we do listen carefully to our southern African friends in the Commonwealth and outside. CMAG is chaired by the Foreign Minister of Botswana, but the whole international community in Africa and across the rest of the world is profoundly concerned about the anti-democratic actions of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF; we are entitled, therefore, to take our own decisions about the action that is necessary.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that despite last Sunday's deadline set by the European Council, there are still no official EU observers in Zimbabwe? Can he also confirm rumours that despite his frequent assertions that Britain is at the heart of Europe, if and when observers are sent, they will not include British observers, and that the free access for the international media required by the Council will not include the BBC or representatives of our major newspapers?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that such qualifications on the composition of the observer team and on the definition of the international media would be totally unacceptable to the Government and the House, because they would be nothing more than concessions to the demands being made for electoral purposes by President Mugabe?

Mr. Straw: I made it clear that we will not get into a game with President Mugabe about who is or is not to be a member of those teams. Those are matters for the European Union and the Commonwealth to deal with independently. Neither of those bodies is accepting conditions from President Mugabe.

As for representatives, the right hon. Gentleman is not correct. I am told that as of this morning at least four EU representatives are in the country setting up an observation mission. The leader of the mission will arrive at the weekend with colleagues. We expect other members of the EU observer team—about 100—to deploy in the

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coming weeks. A head office for the mission in Harare has already been set up, and a contract with a logistical support company is being finalised.

Given the gravity of the situation, I would have hoped that was something on which the Conservative party could join us. For all the bluster that we hear from the right hon. Gentleman, the simple truth about the priority that is attached to Zimbabwe was told—or rather, not told—in the keynote speech on foreign and commonwealth affairs made by the Leader of the Opposition last Thursday at Chatham house. I have read through the speech—every single word. There is not one word in the speech about Zimbabwe—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Straw: —still less—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That has absolutely nothing to do with the Minister. I should be obliged if, when I stand, the Minister would be seated and not continue his remarks.

Mr. Ancram: Last week, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Council's conditions were clear and unambiguous and that we meant business. Today, we are told that the deadline has been waived, that the conditions have now been qualified and distorted to suit Mr. Mugabe and that, in effect, Mugabe is being given the benefit of the doubt again. Can he not understand the widespread feelings of disgust about what is happening in Zimbabwe? Three members of the Zimbabwean Opposition were brutally murdered at the weekend, but apparently that is still not enough to trigger action from him. When will he and his European colleagues realise that appeasement does not work? He welcomed the Abuja agreement, but it was not worth the paper it was written on. History teaches us that appeasing dictators merely encourages them. When will he stop talking and start doing something before it is too late and nothing can be done?

Mr. Straw: I think that shows the error of writing one's supplementary question before one knows the answer to the original question. The right hon. Gentleman's basic assumption is wrong. Whether he and I like it or not, the initial condition—that observers must start to be admitted by 3 February—has been met. That is why he is wrong.

I would have thought that the Conservatives would be the last party to start talking about appeasement. I do not just mean the 1930s; I mean appeasement by the Conservative Government whom the right hon. Gentleman supported in the 1980s. They sat by and did nothing when Mugabe and his henchmen were murdering more than 5,000 native people and taking action in Matabeleland. That was real appeasement, as the Conservative Government did nothing.

We are taking action now to secure, if we can, a democratic transfer of power in Zimbabwe. If we cannot do that, we must then ensure that further actions follow. The Opposition's propositions would lead to nothing but isolation by Britain and would play into Mugabe's hands.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Conservative Government not only did nothing about the situation in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, but managed to become isolated, 48 to one, in the Commonwealth in support of apartheid South Africa?

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Will he therefore carry on with his sensible, prudent policy and not fall into the trap of allowing Mugabe to claim that there is some sort of neo-colonialist plot against his Government? Is it not more important that we get united European Union action as well as support throughout southern Africa?

Mr. Straw: I have already referred in slightly different terms to the fact that, in my judgment, while this issue may be a personal priority for the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), it is not one that is shared by the Leader of the Opposition. That speaks volumes about the priority that the Opposition attach to the matter. Of course, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The natural consequence of the strategy—if one can adorn it with that phrase—that is being offered by the Opposition Front Bench would not be an end to Mugabe. In my judgment, it would strengthen Mugabe, because he would be able to do what we have denied him for the past nine months and present what is happening as a bilateral dispute, in respect of which, for sure, the Opposition's position would have no support from the European Union, the Southern African Development Community and the Commonwealth. In other words, it is a strategy of failure of the sort that we have seen so many times before from the Conservative party.

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