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8.26 pm

Tony Cunningham (Workington): The 2002 presidential election was a symbol of everything that democracy is not. The campaigns leading up to it were marred by political violence. At least 30 members of the Opposition were killed in the first quarter of 2002, and there were many reported cases of members of the Opposition having been attacked and tortured. Fear and intimidation were very much the order of the day. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that it is easy to stand here in the Chamber and describe what is happening in Zimbabwe, but that the reality is absolutely horrific and abhorrent to us.

The election was deemed neither free nor fair by a broad swath of international opinion, including the Southern African Development Community parliamentary forum and the Commonwealth. It is true that African countries reacted in various ways. Some, including Senegal and Ghana, were critical. Others, such as Tanzania and Namibia, judged the election to be free and fair. I have said before from these Benches that we need all the countries of Africa to join together to isolate this particularly abhorrent regime.

The poll was characterised by systematic torture, rape and violence, overwhelmingly against the Opposition by the ruling ZANU-PF party. There was manipulation of both the electoral administration and the count, and draconian restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, association and assembly. The Zimbabwe regime attacked the judiciary and harassed the independent media. The pursuit of such actions justified the imposition of sanctions by the European Union and the United States before the election. I think that we all welcomed the decisions made by New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway to follow suit after the election, and the Commonwealth's suspension of Zimbabwe from its councils on 19 March.

The Foreign Secretary told Parliament that

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I believe that he was absolutely and unequivocally right to say that, as I am sure that many hon. Members and colleagues would agree. Indeed, recent developments reveal how the internal situation continues to deteriorate. ZANU-PF has withdrawn from the inter-party dialogue, which is now in limbo. Violence continues against the MDC, particularly in rural areas. Because of the manipulation of the media and the way in which the media is controlled, we can only imagine what is happening in some of those far-flung areas.

The Zimbabwe Government's Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is being used to squeeze the independent press, and an American correspondent working for The Guardian is currently on trial for "publishing a falsehood". Is it not a huge irony that this regime, which has no legitimacy whatever, and has cheated its way to power, is in a position to arrest a journalist for publishing a falsehood?

The formal economy is the fastest contracting in the world, and Mugabe's land policy is contributing to worsening food shortages As has been said, 6 million people already require food aid. That number could increase to almost 9 million—three quarters of the population—by this autumn, yet the dams are full. Irrigated food production is possible, but Government policy will not allow commercial farmers to plant, and price controls make commercial production uneconomic.

The British Government are right to declare their commitment to work with the Zimbabwean civil society. Non-governmental organisations and Churches remain under great pressure, and there is evidence that Mugabe may be moving against them in the not too distant future. I therefore pay tribute to the immense courage of the many Churches, church men and women and NGOs who are trying to do what they can to protect innocent civilians in Zimbabwe. We must be alert to the likely politicisation of food aid by ZANU-PF. By avoiding Government channels, we can ensure that food goes to all those in need. We have to ensure that Zimbabwe's Government do not take responsibility for, or any credit whatsoever for, the food aid provided. We must also remind people that it is Mugabe's own policies that are damaging Zimbabwe.

The British Government's position on the Mugabe Government is well known: we recognise states, not Governments. However, like much of the international community—including the Commonwealth observers—we have made it clear that we do not recognise the outcome of the elections as a free expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. Having said that, the Government continue to have diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe. On 21 March, the Foreign Secretary told the House that he had received no representations to the effect that it would be helpful to reduce, or break off, diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe.

As I said during today's Foreign Affairs questions, the British high commissioner for Zimbabwe is a constituent of mine; indeed, he grew up in, and went to school in, Workington. Before becoming high commissioner, he was the British ambassador to the former Yugoslavia. He did a superb job there, and he and his staff are doing a fantastic job in Zimbabwe. All hon. Members will doubtless pay tribute to the work that they are doing.

Britain is far from alone in its opposition to the Zimbabwe regime, but it is a powerful voice within that multilateral foreign policy. The EU's policy echoes that

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of the UK Government. When the Barcelona European Council convened in March, EU heads of Government agreed that

Furthermore, the EU decided to dispatch a high-level troika to confer with countries of the Southern African Development Community region on European concerns about Zimbabwe. On 15 April, the EU decided to impose a moratorium on bilateral ministerial contacts with Zimbabwe until further notice, excluding the conduct of political dialogue to promote democracy, human rights, the rule of law in Zimbabwe, regional security and—of course—humanitarian needs.

The EU has already imposed targeted sanctions on the Government of Zimbabwe, and at Barcelona it agreed to consider additional targeted measures. I hope that such sanctions are imposed on the Government of Zimbabwe, and do not hurt the Zimbabwean people, who are already suffering enough. Of course, sanctions have to be enforced multilaterally if they are to be effective. The idea that sanctions are not working is nonsense. If they were not hurting the Zimbabwean regime, why would Mugabe and his acolytes be trying so hard to give the impression that they are having no effect?

EU policy towards Zimbabwe is kept continually under review, and the Foreign Secretary tells me that it will be discussed again in the near future. As has been said, Britain sees a case for extending the list of targeted individuals, but the matter is one for the EU as a whole to decide.

Ministers agreed that

We have already considered measures such as a travel ban on named members of the regime, freezing their assets, and banning the export of arms and equipment that could be used for repression. Claims that the travel ban is ineffective are unfounded; indeed, it is having a real impact. On three occasions since February, senior Zimbabweans, including Mugabe, have been refused permission to enter the EU.

Critics point to the presence of Mugabe and his officials in Rome between 10 and 13 June as a mockery of the travel ban. Permission was twice granted for individuals to attend meetings of international bodies in Europe. I shall not rehearse the argument that the Foreign Secretary has already made about Cuba. Fidel Castro banned is banned and subject to sanctions, but he still attends UN meetings in New York. In referring to some 40 visits by Fidel Castro to the USA, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife was about right.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that the ability of people such as Olivia Muchena, who was at the heart of agricultural policy, to fly into this country—she was here a couple of weeks ago—flouts the spirit of the ban, if not the letter of it? That is what grates with people in Zimbabwe.

Tony Cunningham: I do not disagree, and it is clear that we must tighten up the regime. However, the policy

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forms part of an international ban on the travel of Zimbabwean citizens, and I hope that the ban will be extended further.

No one doubts that the presence of such individuals is extremely distasteful, but as I said, we must accept that EU partners—such as the US and Switzerland, in the case of the UN—are bound by their treaty obligations. We have made it clear that the terms of entry for these individuals should be as restrictive as possible.

The British Government welcome the decision of the Commonwealth troika to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for one year, and I pay tribute to South African President Thabo Mbeki, President Olusegun Obasanjo, of Nigeria, and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, for taking this decision in consultation with Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon. Critics suggested that the group had insufficient powers, but they have been proved wrong. The suspension is evidence of the Commonwealth's ability and willingness to bite when its principles are at stake.

On the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, disputes over participation in the Commonwealth games are a matter not for the British Government, but for the Commonwealth Games Federation, which will take a decision in consultation with the Commonwealth secretariat. I agree wholeheartedly that the difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa is huge. I hope that the Zimbabwean team will indeed attend the Commonwealth games, but I also hope that the Government will raise the issue of Zimbabwe with Commonwealth leaders and Ministers when they are present in this country.

EU and Commonwealth measures against Zimbabwe have been clearly and deliberately targeted at those responsible for the policies of the Government of Zimbabwe. As I said, it is not our intention to penalise the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. In fact, the reverse is true, and in that regard I again pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. Our aim is to help the poor, who should not be hindered. Indeed, this year we expect to provide some £18 million-worth of assistance for Zimbabwe for HlV/AlDS and the rural poor.

Of course, we keep our aid programme to Zimbabwe under review. Britain has no desire to worsen the economic hardships of the people of Zimbabwe by cutting essential support for the rural poor and victims of AIDS. We sometimes read that AIDS is devastating the poor people of Africa. Well, that disease is not affecting only the poor of Africa. A third of all doctors in Africa are dying from AIDS. It cuts across the social spectrum and is the worst disease that we have seen in my lifetime. We have to look back to plagues in the past to find a comparison.

We remain committed to helping the poor of Zimbabwe who are suffering from the double impact of economic collapse and HIV/AIDS. Cutting all aid would hurt the very people who have suffered most through economic mismanagement, but would have little impact on the Government. I am proud to remind the House that the UK imposed a national arms embargo on Zimbabwe in May 2000, and the EU followed suit on 18 February 2002. We intend to enforce that embargo rigorously.

I have outlined some of the policies—which are all carefully devised and responsible—that we have adopted in response to the despicable actions of the Zimbabwean

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leadership. My notes contain criticisms of the previous Conservative Government for their relationship with the Zimbabwean regime stretching back to 1982–84, when 10,000 people were killed in Matabeleland, the revelations of the "Panorama" programme and details of the visits during the Major years. However, I would prefer it if we all joined together to find solutions to the problems of Zimbabwe, so I will not continue with that part of my speech.

Mugabe is a man for whom I—and, I am sure, everyone else—feel utter contempt. Our policy is driven not only by a need to stand up to that repressive dictator but by a vision for much-needed structural social change in Zimbabwe. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife mentioned land reform. The idea that is being pushed in Zimbabwe is that we oppose land reform or achieving a fair distribution of land. I remind the House that land reform in Zimbabwe is the bedrock for development. At the time of Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 the best agricultural land was owned mainly by large commercial farms, many of more than 1,000 hectares. Poor families were crowded into less productive communal areas, on land holdings of less than one hectare.

I support the British Government's belief that land reform is central to Zimbabwe's progress. Britain has been a strong advocate of effective and well managed land reform in Zimbabwe ever since independence. A more equitable distribution of land is essential to reduce poverty and to contribute to the country's long-term economic and social future. To be effective, such reform must be carried out within the rule of law. It must be transparent and fair, and within a well managed economic policy framework that contributes both to poverty reduction and to Zimbabwe's economic prosperity.

The UK has a long tradition on both sides of the House of supporting land reform in Zimbabwe. I wish to put on record the fact that that support for land reform proposals goes back to the start of independence. Between 1980 and 1985, the UK provided £47 million for land reform, with £20 million as a specific land resettlement grant and £27 million in the form of budgetary support to help to meet the Zimbabwean Government's own contribution to the programme. The land resettlement grant was signed in 1981 and substantially spent by 1988. The UK land resettlement grant for Zimbabwe finally closed in 1996 with—unbelievably—£3 million still unspent.

The UK Government sought proposals from the Zimbabwean Government on spending the remaining balance. A further technical mission by the Overseas Development Administration in 1996 resulted in new proposals for UK support for land reform. The Zimbabwean Government responded towards the end of 1996, but no agreement was reached before the UK general election on May 1997.

In September 1998, with UK encouragement, the Zimbabwean Government hosted a land conference in Harare, involving all major international donors and the multilateral institutions. Issues raised in the 1996 ODA report were considered at the conference. The UK participated constructively and endorsed the basic principles of land reform agreed at the conference, as did the Zimbabwean Government. Those principles included the need for transparency, respect for the rule of law, poverty reduction, affordability and consistency with Zimbabwe's wider economic interests. The 1998

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conference agreed a two-year inception phase, during which Government resettlement schemes would be tried alongside ideas from the private sector and civil society.

In May 1999, consultants began work to identify ways in which the UK Government could provide further support for land reform in Zimbabwe. Terms of reference for a follow-up visit were agreed with the Zimbabwean Government in September 1999. Work on UK support for land reform in Zimbabwe was interrupted by the illegal farm occupations and the subsequent violence in the run-up to the 2000 parliamentary elections.

The United Kingdom remains willing to support a land reform programme that is carried out in accordance with the principles agreed by donors and the Zimbabwe Government in 1998. That is also the position of the broad donor community. It should be pointed out that we are not imposing any new conditions. In the absence of a Government-led programme that we felt able to support, the Department for International Development established in March 2000 a £5 million land resettlement challenge fund to support the private sector and civil society-led resettlement initiatives. Unfortunately, the Zimbabwe Government have not allowed such private sector initiatives to proceed. They have instead pressed ahead with their fast-track resettlement programme, which is totally unacceptable.

When a group of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers—including those of the UK and Zimbabwe—met in Abuja in September 2001 to discuss Zimbabwe, they agreed again that land reform must be implemented in a fair, just and sustainable manner, in the interests of all the people of Zimbabwe. They agreed that any reform programme should be on the basis of the United Nations development programme proposals of December 2000. The Government of Zimbabwe agreed to honour the principles enshrined in the Harare Commonwealth declaration: to prevent further occupation of farm lands; to restore the rule of law; to take firm action against violence and intimidation; and to honour the freedom of expression.

At that meeting, the UK reaffirmed its commitment to a significant financial contribution to such a land reform programme and gave an undertaking to encourage other international donors to do the same. In November 2001, the Government of Zimbabwe amended the Land Acquisition Act to allow them to allocate land without giving owners the right to contest the seizures. That contravenes not only the letter, but the spirit of the agreement at Abuja. How on earth can we believe anything that the Zimbabwe Government say when they signed up to an agreement at Abuja and immediately walked away from it? [Interruption.] I am coming towards the end of my speech.

Regrettably, the credibility of Abuja has been damaged by Zimbabwe's scant regard for its commitments. Since independence, the United Kingdom has provided more than £500 million in bilateral support for development in Zimbabwe, more than any other donor. We should be justifiably proud of that. In total, the wider donor community has provided more than $2 billion in assistance. The UK continues to provide annual support for emergency relief and to alleviate HIV-AIDS suffering. The UK has also contributed to development in Zimbabwe through the international financial institutions. It is interesting to note that the UK funds around 18 per cent. of EU spending.

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In essence, the UK Government have always been open to discussion on the subject of land. They have honoured their Lancaster House commitments and remain willing to contribute to a land reform programme in Zimbabwe that would lead to a sustainable improvement in the lives of Zimbabwe's rural poor.

It is ultimately the lives of the impoverished citizens of Zimbabwe that are threatened by the tyrannical policies of Robert Mugabe, who has no legitimacy whatever. I am sure that we would all agree that the sooner he goes, the better, not just for Zimbabwe, but for the entire region.

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