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Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement becauseas perhaps he can confirmmany thousands of businesses in my constituency might be being overcharged by between £250 and £300 a year for banking services. Although Members on both sides of the Housebut not the shadow Chancellorsupport the proposals, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the Labour Government who are listening to the needs of small businesses through the operation of the Small Business Council and other bodies? It is this Government who are standing up for the interests of small businesses and taking action to promote enterprise and competition. It is this Government who are succeeding for small businesses where the previous Government failed.
I believe that the Liberal and nationalist parties are prepared to support our measures. It is unfortunate that, although the putative shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), has expressed support for them, the shadow Chancellor himself has still not said what he thinks.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): The Chancellor gave the costs of overcharging as £725 million. What is his estimate of the total cost to business of additional Government regulation imposed in the past two Parliaments? Are those who say that it is £5 billion right?
Mr. Brown: The Minister of State at the Cabinet Office announced only a few days ago the scrapping of a whole series of regulations that had been introduced by the Conservative Government and other previous Governments. We are working with the small business community in our regulatory taskforce to remove regulation. The hon. Gentleman should remember that we cut the rate of small business tax from 23p to 20pto the lowest rate in our historyand that we introduced a 10p starting rate for small businesses on profits up to £10,000, and a rate between 10p and 20p on profits from £10,000 to £50,000. He should also remember that, despite all the talk from the Conservative party, it was the Labour Government who cut capital gains tax.
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Small businesses in my constituency will see the publication of the report and the Chancellor's actions as vindication of their deep-seated concerns over many years about
Mr. Brown: That is a matter for previous Chancellors. My hon. Friend is right to say that it was time to take action. It is regrettable that at the time when small businesses were complaining most, especially in the early 1990s, so little was done to help them. It is possible to build a consensus around developing the enterprise culture, and I would have thought that all parties would now be prepared to join it. My remarks are directed to the shadow Chancellor, and I seek his views on our proposals.
Michael Fabricant: Like my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor, I welcome the statement, but as with all such matters, the devil is in the detail. It is unfortunate that the Chancellor had cloth ears when my right hon. and learned Friend was speaking.
It is a great disappointment to me personally, and no doubt to others who are listening to our debate, that the Chancellor did not say anything about funds deposited by ZANU-PF, Mugabe and others in this country, which could have been seized, and
Mr. Brown: That is not the subject of the statement, which is about small business banking. We referred the matter to the Competition Commission, which has produced a report that is now before the House. Along with the commission, we are proposing to take action. As for the personal banking sector, that is not the subject of the review.
Yesterday, Robert Mugabe was declared the official winner in the presidential election. That result should, however, surprise no one. ZANU-PF had long been bent on achieving precisely that outcome by any means and at all costs. The Zimbabwean Government have subjected their electorate to two years of violence and intimidation. They have harassed Opposition candidates and supporters, manipulated the voters' rolls and restricted access to polling stations. They have exploited every instrument of the statethe military, the police, media, youth militias and the bureaucracyto distort the outcome of the election.
ZANU-PF did its utmost to conceal the extent of its violence and malpractice from the eyes of the world. It excluded European Union election observers, monopolised domestic television and radio, and restricted international media organisations, including the BBC. None of those actions were the actions of a party confident of its ability to win a free or fair election. The elections can be judged only by agreed international standards, not least the declaration signed by Commonwealth Heads of Government, chaired by President Mugabe, in Harare in 1991.
A key yardstick by which any electoral process must be judged is impartial electoral administration, but there was nothing impartial about the process in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe staffed Zimbabwe's electoral supervisory commission with partisan army officers. The names of who could and could not vote were not settled until just days before the election, amidst allegations of fraudulent practice. During the election itself, the electoral commission reduced the number of polling booths in urban areas to restrict the Opposition vote. In many rural areas, the Opposition say that their polling agents and monitors were prevented from inspecting ballot boxes before voting started. Others were not allowed inside polling stations. Many Opposition workers say they were abducted, detained or arrested by supporters of the ruling party or the security forces.
As the House will know, while European Union and other observers were excluded from observing the electoral process, some groups of election observers were allowed into the country. Earlier today, I received the preliminary report of the Commonwealth observers group, which comes to a number of coruscating conclusions about the conduction of the election. It said:
Zimbabweans have plainly been denied their fundamental right to choose by whom they are governed. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in expressing my admiration for the people of Zimbabwe[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]whose faith in democracy was so strong that they queued for days to vote, in the face of police violence. In some cases, they were denied the right to vote. They are the true democrats, but they deserve a great deal better.
What adds to the tragedy is that, until recently, Zimbabwe was the pride of Africathe bread basket of the continent. Robert Mugabe's disastrous economic polices have severely damaged his own country. Unemployment is running at 70 per cent. and inflation at 112 per cent. Last year, its gross domestic product declined by 10 per cent., and the same decline is expected this year. In the space of two years, Robert Mugabe's prime achievement will have been to contract Zimbabwe's economy by at least a quarter.
The failure of the electoral process in Zimbabwe is a tragedy not just for Zimbabwe, but for the people of southern Africa as a whole. The rand of the Republic of South Africa depreciated by 40 per cent. in the past year. The people of southern Africa deserve better, too. Their Governments will inevitably bear most of the responsibility in helping the region to recover, and we shall of course continue to work with them in that task.
The House will know that, on 18 February, the European Union decided to impose sanctions, which were targeted against the leadership of ZANU-PF. They included a travel ban, an assets freeze and a ban on arms sales. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will travel to Barcelona this afternoon, and at the summit to be held in that city we will review the position with our EU partners.
The House will know that, at the turn of the year, Her Majesty's Government took the view, on evidence available then, that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth. Events since then have simply confirmed that judgment. Regrettably, Commonwealth Heads of Government decided not to follow that course, but to appoint instead a troika of South Africa, Nigeria and Australia to decide on Zimbabwe's Commonwealth status. We await its conclusions in the light of the strongly worded Commonwealth observers group report, to which I have already drawn the House's attention, and the more detailed report that the observers group promises.
In the face of the deprivation heaped on them by their own Government, it is crucial that we and the international community stand by the people of Zimbabwe. We will therefore maintain our programme of humanitarian assistance, and our assistance in the fight against HIV-AIDS. However, I tell the House that we will continue to oppose any accessing by the Government of Zimbabwe of international financial resources until a more representative Government are in place.
Robert Mugabe may claim to have won this election, but the people of Zimbabwe have lost. We are faced with a leader who is determined to ignore the international community, to ignore his people and to ignore the grave consequences of his actions. Change will have to come to Zimbabwe. One dayI hope soonwe can look forward to a democratic Government of Zimbabwe, acting in the interests of all their peoples, and taking their rightful place in a modern Africa.
Some have sought to suggest that this is a conflict between Africa and the west, black against white and south against north. I reject that totally. At its heart, this is a matter of the universal worldwide principle of the right of people, wherever they live, freely to determine their own future. That principle has been flouted in Zimbabwe, and all democrats should speak with one voice in condemning what has taken place.