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7.14 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I beg to move,

This debate should have taken place a long time ago, and it should also have taken place in Government time. Zimbabwe is not a far-off land about which we know little; it is a land that we know all too well. Zimbabwe is in crisis. Her people are suffering—suffering from starvation, suffering from a breakdown in the rule of law, suffering from the loss of basic democratic freedoms, suffering from a systematic violation of human rights and suffering from a vote-rigging despot who uses intimidation and lawlessness to impose his will upon his people.

If we were talking about Kosovo or Bosnia, the Prime Minister would rightly insist on our moral duty to intervene to save the people from tyranny, dispersal and torture. If we were talking about the Indian sub-continent, the Foreign Secretary would be jetting in to exercise persuasion and economic muscle to restore normality. If we were talking about the middle east, prime ministerial envoys would be whistle-stopping around the region seeking support for political action to deal with the crisis. But we are talking about Zimbabwe, yet from the Government there has been silence and inaction.

Until Question Time this afternoon, there had been no recent statements in the House on Zimbabwe and there has been no evidence of the creation of the international coalition to bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe regime that was promised by the Foreign Secretary when he told the House that an international coalition was

He could have fooled me. He certainly fooled the people of Zimbabwe.

It is starkly indicative that it has taken the Opposition to bring this matter to the Floor of the House. I have accused the Government of dithering over Zimbabwe, but I confess that I am wrong. Since March, there has not been enough action to merit the description "dithering." There has only been silence, broken astonishingly last week on 20 June when the Foreign Secretary claimed, as he did earlier today, that sanctions were working and that Zimbabwe's Government were experiencing—I think these are the words he used—isolation from the rest of the world. Who does he think he is kidding? Certainly not the people of Gib—[Interruption]—Zimbabwe, or of Gibraltar; certainly not the people of Zimbabwe.

Let me say to the Foreign Secretary that the people of Zimbabwe feel a sense of betrayal that Britain has turned its back on them and that it is afraid to take on the Mugabe

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regime. They see the Government ensconced in their well-practised mode of supine inaction. Many Zimbabweans to whom I have spoken recently believe that we no longer care about what happens in Zimbabwe. I can only tell them that Conservative Members care passionately.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) rose

Mr. Ancram: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman cares passionately, so I shall be delighted to give way to him.

Hugh Bayley: I have taken an interest in Zimbabwe for a long time. When the right hon. Gentleman's party were in power, Mugabe wiped out the opposition party, ZAPU, and 10,000 Zimbabweans were butchered in Matabeleland. What protests did the right hon. Gentleman's Government lodge; what sanctions did they apply; and why did they later invite Mugabe to Britain on a state visit?

Mr. Ancram: I do not understand whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that that is any reason to ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe today. I count 10 Labour Members in the Chamber for this debate, and that is a sign of how much the Labour party cares about what is happening in Zimbabwe.

We know that the crisis in Zimbabwe is getting worse. It is important that not only the House but the country should know about what is horrifyingly growing unchecked in Zimbabwe. We cannot turn a blind eye to it and we cannot afford to be squeamish. Our motion refers to the

and to

The truth is stark. According to the report of the independent Physicians for Human Rights, between January and April this year, there were 961 documented cases of torture. There have been many more since then.

Some of the cases are horrifying. A Movement for Democratic Change supporter was attacked three times. Eight months pregnant, she was kicked so badly in the groin and lower abdomen that she suffered internal bleeding for which she was prevented from getting treatment. Subsequently, her eight-day-old baby was physically abused by Mugabe's thugs while she was gagged to silence her screams. She was told by them that her baby should die because it was "MDC property".

Documented cases of torture include severe beatings, mutilation by fire, whippings, permanent disfigurement and crippling, much of it taking place in the custody of the police or the military. One victim in May was abducted in front of the central police station in Bulawayo and taken to a militia camp. He was accused of being an MDC supporter. A flaming log was taken from a fire and forced against his feet. His mutilated feet were then beaten. A former policeman accused of being MDC was beaten about his head with a metal bar and then more generally with sjamboks by ZANU youth militia. When he complained to the police he was told:

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The fact is that the police turn a blind eye to such torture and abuse, probably because more than 90 per cent. of such cases emanate from the actions of persons linked to the Government—the army, the police, the militia, the veterans groups. There is little fear of repercussions because the Government have let it be known that grants of clemency and amnesty will be forthcoming.

An apologist for Mugabe told me the other day that I should not be too censorious about what was happening in Zimbabwe because "This was Africa". Such comments are a slur on that great continent. The abuse is not African; it is the abuse of a fascist dictatorship. The international community can no longer stand by and let it happen.

After elections in March that were internationally judged to be rigged and stolen, the Foreign Secretary told the House:

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that that remains his position.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Yes.

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful for that. Mugabe and his henchmen have ridden roughshod over democracy in Zimbabwe. It is worth recalling that the principles of the 1991 Harare declaration—this is ironic—state:

Yet two days after the elections, Mugabe laid formal charges of treason against the leaders of the MDC. Between January and August this year, the Parliament will have been closed for all but two days in May, when legislation was pushed through without consultation or debate.

In terms of the law, Mugabe has ignored any rulings that did not suit him. On 9 April, a senior Government official, George Charama, said that it was the intention of the Government to ignore rulings by the court which were not in the Government's favour. The contemptuous Government reaction to the Supreme Court ruling that the Public Order and Security Act did not apply to certain internal meetings of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions only helps to corroborate that.

Press freedom and freedom of expression are also under attack. The draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has already allowed the arrest of more than a dozen journalists on various charges. Poets, too, have been jailed under that legislation for poetry critical of Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's economic outlook is even bleaker. The violent land-grabs continue. Yesterday, 60 per cent. of Zimbabwe's remaining white farmers were told to close down. Many of them will not even be allowed to complete the essential grading of the tobacco that used to provide 30 per cent. of Zimbabwe's foreign currency. Agricultural output has fallen 67 per cent. from last year. Farmers are being dispossessed and their labourers are losing their jobs and watching helplessly as their families face hunger and homelessness.

Unemployment has soared to 70 per cent. Business closures are rife. Everyone is suffering except for those who are in Mugabe's pocket. Inflation has now reached

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122 per cent. Skilled people are leaving Zimbabwe. Wildlife, so essential to the tourism industry, has been devastated, including the rare black rhino. The dire economic crisis is beginning seriously to damage neighbouring economies as well.

Then there is the Mugabe-created and fuelled humanitarian crisis. Some 6 million people face malnutrition in Zimbabwe. The United Nations estimates that Zimbabwe needs 1.5 million tonnes of food aid, including 1.3 million tonnes of corn. Mugabe cynically and dishonestly blames the white imperialists, but the blame lies firmly on his shoulders. He is even blocking grain imports from the port of Beira.

Home production has been devastated by the land-grabs. Andrew Meikle, chairman of Commercial Grain Producers, projects a harvest of only 498,000 tonnes this year compared with 1.47 million last year and 2.1 million in 2000. Wheat is expected to run out by the end of the month. The crisis is massive and it is politically induced. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) will have more to say on that in her winding-up speech.

The horrifying truth is that Mugabe is using starvation as a political tool. He is primarily responsible for his people's hunger. The PHR report vividly describes how the feeding plan in Midlands school has been altered to keep MDC children from obtaining food. A ZANU-PF councillor is chillingly reported as having said:

While our Government may say little, others have spoken out. USAID head, Andrew Natsios, describes Mugabe as tyrannical and predatory. Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, has accused Mugabe of being primarily responsible for the hunger and deprivation afflicting Zimbabwe. Mugabe may blame drought, but the truth is that his people go hungry alongside full dams with the waters unexploited.

We must make no mistake about it: the crisis and the evil are real, and real international action is urgently needed. It simply does not wash for the Foreign Secretary to say, as he did at Question Time today, that action is being taken. The right hon. Gentleman has to answer some central questions. What has exclusion from the councils of the Commonwealth achieved? How many meetings has Zimbabwe been excluded from? Will it still attend the Commonwealth games at the end of next month? Will any Zimbabwean Ministers attend those games? What message will that give to Mr. Mugabe?

Then there are the EU targeted sanctions which the Foreign Secretary apparently believes are isolating the Zimbabwean Government. I thought that Mugabe and senior members of his regime were supposed to be banned from travelling. In the words of the Foreign Secretary in January, that policy was "clear, unanimous and unambiguous"—so clear, apparently, that Mugabe was able to attend the United Nations in New York; so unanimous that Grace Mugabe was recently able to go shopping in Spain; and so unambiguous that police chief Augustine Chihuri was able to attend a meeting of Interpol in Lille in May, and Mugabe, with offensive irony, was able to attend a UN conference on world hunger in Rome a few days ago. Dr. Olivia Muchena, Minister of State in the Vice-Presidents' office, a former Deputy Minister of Agriculture, is allowed to travel

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at will. Kumberai Kengai, ex-Minister of Agriculture, is receiving medical treatment in the United Kingdom. Why is the travel ban list not comprehensive? The asset freeze includes Mugabe, individual members of the Government of Zimbabwe and any natural or legal persons, entities or bodies associated with them. But only 20 individuals are named in the travel ban.

It is time that the Government faced the facts. EU targeted sanctions are not working. The author of the recent International Crisis Group report described the sanctions as a joke. He went on to say:

What an indictment!

The sanctions regime needs to be strengthened both in scope and extent; it needs to encompass more targets; and it needs to be given more bite. I would like the sanctions regime to include the immediate families of those who are on the banned list. Why has the EU perversely postponed further consideration of such an urgently needed review of the sanctions until 22 July? Ministers met—what was it, a week and a half ago? Did they not consider at that time whether the sanctions were working? Last week's General Affairs Council conclusions contained one page about Zimbabwe and not a single action point.

The Government have lost the plot on Zimbabwe. The overriding objective must now be to secure new, fresh, independently monitored presidential elections. Any fudged and artificial compromise between ZANU-PF and the MDC that falls short of that would be a victory for Mugabe's dishonesty and his despotic behaviour, and the MDC are right to reject it.

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