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Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): It is hard to disagree with a single word that the Prime Minister has said about Zimbabwe. He spoke out robustly. However, the train of events in Zimbabwe is not new: it is not a feature of the past few months, but has been going on for two years, since Mugabe lost his referendum in February 2000. Yes, it has become worse over that time, but there has been a consistent pattern of intimidation, brutality and subversion of the rule of law. In that time, some of us have called for targeted action against individualsmembers of the gang of hoodlums who support Mugabe in office and in power and Mugabe himselfand for targeted sanctions, but we have been pushed away by the Government, the current Foreign Secretary and his predecessor. The only Minister who consistently spoke up robustly along those lines is the current Minister for Europe, who, as soon he did so, was slapped down and moved out of his job. Does the Prime Minister agree that the lesson of all that is that when a dictator starts to behave in a tyrannical manner, robust action taken early on makes the difference? We should by now have learned that appeasing tyrants does not work.
The Prime Minister: I simply disagree totally. The Government made their position on Mugabe plain right from the outset. Whether we act in the EU or in the Commonwealth, we have to get other countries to join us. The right hon. Gentleman knows that when the issue was first raised a couple of years ago, close consultations took place with the opposition movement in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change, about the right response. The idea that we have not sought firm action against Mugabe is absurd, but we have to get that action agreed at European level and at Commonwealth level, and that is best done by working with other countries.
The Prime Minister: In response to the shadow Foreign Secretary, may I say that the notion that the Conservative party, with its attitude towards Europe and the Commonwealth, could have got further is more than a little absurd?
The Prime Minister: I think that that is truethere is a greater prospect of stability in Angola. That emphasises, as my right hon. Friend correctly identifies, the importance of ensuring that we establish proper systems of conflict resolution in Africa. The single biggest problem for countries in many parts of Africa is conflicts lasting for years that have made it absolutely impossible for those countries to develop properly. That is what we want to achieve as part of the deal for Africa at the G8 summit. Whether in Congo, Angola, Sudan or Somalia, there is a real prospect of getting the right conflict resolution systems in place so that stability can be restored. I believe that the situation in Angola today is more hopeful than it has been for some time.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon, particularly the large section of it that referred to Zimbabwe. Does he agree that poverty in many central African countries is exacerbated by the chaos in Zimbabwe? Unfortunately, the Commonwealth monitors are not generating confidence among the opponents of Mr. Mugabe, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change. I receive e-mails by the day from Zimbabwe highlighting the monitors' inadequacy.
I know that the Prime Minister must be careful in saying so, but does he agree that the Commonwealth has not enhanced its credibility by not taking a decision at least to suspend Zimbabwe? Is he not worried that after the election on Sunday, the votes will be counted by those who are in hock to Mr. Mugabe?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about the way in which the poll will be conducted. I should have preferred the Commonwealth to go further. The real test of its credibility will come after the weekend's election. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that as a result of the instability in Zimbabwe, problems are being exported to other African countries in the region. That is, in my view, why it is all the more important that they speak out and speak up.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): I fully endorse everything that the Prime Minister has said this afternoon with regard to Zimbabwe and President Mugabe. Did the Commonwealth Heads of Government look at the situation in Pakistan, whose membership of the Commonwealth is suspended, giving due regard to what President Musharraf has boldly and courageously done about terrorism over the past few months and recognising that he is working towards achieving democracy later this year? Should not the Commonwealth be addressing what it can do to help Pakistan return to democracy and return to the Commonwealth, I hope later this year?
The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I hope very much that Pakistan keeps to the road map to democracy that was set out by President Musharraf last year. That is important, and I pay tribute to his leadership of his country over the past few months; the strong position that he has taken in respect of international
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Prime Minister's persuasive powers have obviously not been enjoying success with the Commonwealth or, for that matter, with President Bush on steel. If President Mugabe rigs the elections or refuses to accept the result and executive action follows, as the Prime Minister indicates, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that that action will be sustained by a consensus of Commonwealth heads of state?
European Union sanctions have attempted to target leading figures in ZANU-PF so that they do not impact on ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Does the Prime Minister envisage any way of toughening up European Union action that will not impact on the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, whose conditions are fairly desperate already?
The Prime Minister: We will certainly look at what further European action can follow, although, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it is important that that does not impact on the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. However, the benefit of the mechanism that we have outlined is that it restricts the decision making to the three countries, not the 50. If they make that recommendation, we will be able to sustain it. As I said earlier, that is the one point of hope to come out the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the very difficult situation in Zimbabwe, the Government have responded largely along lines approved of by the Movement for Democratic Change? If the worst comes to the worst after this weekend, what, besides any action taken by the Commonwealth, may be done at a United Nations level to ensure that there is true democracy in Zimbabwe and that we set in train efforts to restore prosperity there?
The Prime Minister: First, I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. He is right. We have tried to maintain close contact with the Movement for Democratic Change in terms of what it is sensible for Britain to pursue. There are points in timethis is why I think that some of the remarks made by the Opposition are sillyat which Britain's role in Zimbabwe, if it is not handled with care, can help Mugabe rather than hinder him. We have been sensitive to that throughout. In respect of my hon. Friend's point about the United Nations, we would pursue that at every level and in every forum, but we will have to wait to determine the precise nature of that.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I, too, welcome the Prime Minister's conversion to the Opposition's view about Zimbabwe. His memory is not entirely accurate. Morgan Tsvangirai was calling for targeted sanctions long before a response came from the Government. Like the rest of us, the Prime Minister knows that it is not just Zimbabwe that is suffering from what is going on in that country; the surrounding countries
The Prime Minister: Of course we will look at what we can do to assist Zimbabwe, at European level and in respect of the Heads of Government as well. With regard to the hon. Lady's earlier remarks, it is a feature of Opposition parties destined to remain Opposition parties for a long time that they seek to make political capital out of anything.