MDC and the UK Zimbabwe sanctions debate

19 Jan 2010 : Column 139

House of Commons

Tuesday 19 January 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

Beverley Freemen Bill [ Lords]

Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked-

Zimbabwe

1. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet his EU counterparts to discuss EU relations with Zimbabwe. [311313]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Zimbabwe will be considered by EU Foreign Ministers during the course of February, and I look forward to having discussions then. The UK and the EU are strong supporters of the global political agreement-the GPA-and we will continue to press for progress. We welcome the recent agreement of the GPA signatories to establish key commissions, and we urge implementation of that agreement.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply. Does he agree that, although the economic news coming out of Zimbabwe is now more promising, there are still huge concerns about human rights abuses and about the detention of Movement for Democratic Change MPs such as Roy Bennett? Does he also agree that the existing sanctions should not be lifted until those issues have been dealt with?

David Miliband: Yes, I agree that numerous aspects of the situation in Zimbabwe are of deep concern. It is right to say that, over the past year, the economic situation has changed in a quite fundamental way, although it is not quite right to refer to the detention of Roy Bennett as a continued threat to him through a legal case.

In respect of sanctions, we have made it clear that they can be lifted only in a calibrated way, as progress is made. That is something that we will discuss. I do not think that it is right to say that the choice is between lifting all sanctions and lifting none at all. We have to calibrate our response to the progress on the ground, and, above all, to be guided by what the MDC says to us about the conditions under which it is working and leading the country.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that President Zuma of South Africa has not challenged Mugabe and the MDC fully to carry out the terms of the global political agreement? He seems continually to be urging compromise on the MDC.

David Miliband: President Zuma is playing a careful hand, and he is playing it rather skilfully. The Prime Minister was able to discuss Zimbabwe, among other things, with him at the Commonwealth conference in November. President Zuma will be making a state visit to the UK in early March, and I have had discussions with my South African opposite number. The position of the South Africans has certainly been to urge adherence to the global political agreement, which requires compromise on all sides, and I do not think that they have been less than even-handed in the way in which they have done that.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Should not all European Union Governments recognise that Morgan Tsvangirai was right to enter into a coalition with Robert Mugabe, if there was to be a prospect of peaceful change? Is it not worth remembering that even Nelson Mandela entered into a coalition with the white South African National party, and that Solidarity in Poland entered into a coalition with the communists? They all recognised that change has to be gradual if it is to have any chance of producing peaceful stability.

David Miliband: No European country, to my knowledge, has condemned Mr. Tsvangirai for the move that he made. I am not sure what the implication of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question was, but I hope that it was not to question the fact that this is a transitional agreement whose conclusion will be a proper democratic election that respects the will of the Zimbabwean people. There was a hint in what he was saying that there is perhaps-to echo the term used by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)-rather more compromise with Robert Mugabe than the mood of the House would wish. Mr. Tsvangirai's position has been well established, however: he has shown himself to be a man not only of principle but of competence, and we should support him strongly.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): There is one EU member country that has a very direct effect on Zimbabwe, through the Kimberley diamond certification process. Belgium is a member of that process. Will the Foreign Secretary speak to his Belgian counterpart about the human rights abuses in the diamond mines in Zimbabwe, and discuss whether it would be right to threaten suspension of the Kimberley process in order to ensure that the human rights of people working in the diamond mines are protected?

David Miliband: As it happens, I now have another new Belgian opposite number in the new Belgian Government. I spoke to him at the end of last week. I will be happy to talk to him about a range of issues, including Zimbabwe, when I next meet him.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has talked about specific EU targeted sanctions, and said that they should be calibrated. Will he explain which of the current EU sanctions are really having an effect and encouraging ZANU-PF to move towards removing the human rights abuses that have been in place for so long?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will know that a range of EU sanctions is in place. Some of them refer to individuals, others to so-called parastatal organisations. Different sanctions have been brought in at different points, and different sanctions are the responsibility of different ministries in the Zimbabwean system. Some are controlled by the MDC. I would be happy to give the hon. Gentleman a more detailed answer, but I think that it might detain the House beyond the time available for the question. I believe that EU sanctions have helped to send a strong message, and that they have had a practical effect without hurting the Zimbabwean people, which would have been a sanction too far.

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