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Lord Acton: My Lords, I did not actually say that. With great respect to the noble Lord, I said that it had been suggested and that I, crossing my fingers, lived in hope that it might take place. I wish that I could say: "Yes, it will happen."
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the High Commissioner told me this morning that it is definitely going to happen. Those were his words. It was agreed in Brussels the other day when President Mugabe was there.
I should be grateful if the Minister could answer the following questions. I apologise for the fact that I have not given her warning of these. First, if Her Majesty's Government do support this programme and the EU and the World Bank come up with the finance, will they make it crystal clear to the Zimbabwean Government that unequivocal undertakings must be given to compensate farmers in full for the land and the infrastructure they have lost? This is essential to prevent thousands of white farmers facing ruin.
Thirdly, the Zimbabwean Government have already acquired 2 million acres of land under the willing seller/willing buyer system but, as my noble friend Lord Plunket said, there is concern in the farming community that much of this is standing idle. Will the British Government bring pressure on the Zimbabwean Government to address this problem before they acquire more farms?
Finally, the Commercial Farmers' Union has proposed to sell 740,000 acres for resettlement, as well as planning a low interest fund to finance the gradual acquisition of land by black farmers. Indeed, many farmers have offered to train would-be farmers. This initiative has received the support of other potential aid-donor countries who have been concerned with the process of compulsory land acquisition. In the event that international finance is not forthcoming for the acquisition programme, will Her Majesty's Government support the plan of the Commercial Farmers' Union?
Lord Sudeley: My Lords, as has already been alluded to in this debate, further land redistribution is unnecessary because the Zimbabwean Government already have 2 million acres of unoccupied land. However, we may need to be careful about cutting off aid to President Mugabe for fear of making him more intransigent and, therefore, inflicting fresh sufferings on the white population.
The whites do not occupy the best land. They are on the higher altitudes, where it is cooler and there is less disease. Uncertainty over the future of white farmland may mean less willingness to plant crops. We must have regard to the plight of British families who, if dispossessed, will be without British passports and only able to leave the country with approximately £50 in their pockets.
The Foreign Office Minister from another place wrote to me explaining that, where land is acquired compulsorily, the Zimbabwean Government will give compensation for improvements but not for the land itself. The legal basis here is the Land Acquisition Act 1992. However, we understand that the Minister said that landowners can contest these actions under the Act, and possibly under the constitution.
The outcome here in the courts may raise very interesting questions about the independence of the judiciary. If the legal challenges are successful, the compensation bill will probably cause a currency crisis. We need to ask whether the confiscated land will go, not as President Mugabe claims to the landless blacks, but to his Ministers and government officials. We must note that few farms so far bought under resettlement programmes have shown any success. There has been a reversion here to a primitive subsistence slash and burn agriculture.
We also need to look back to the years 1980 and 1992. Under the white government, food was stockpiled against the event of drought. However, in 1980, the stocks were sold off as an easy means of raising foreign exchange. When drought arrived in 1992-93 £2 billion was provided by the west by way of relief but very little of it reached the black population.
I should like to end my brief remarks by putting two questions to the Minister which I hope she will answer when she replies to the debate. First, can the Minister provide any information on the offer made by the previous Conservative government of financial support for the purchase of white-owned farms for the resettlement of black farmers, which I understand was
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for initiating this debate. The debate has been of extraordinarily high quality. Not for the first time I find myself the least well informed person on the speakers' list.
Zimbabwe is a country which commands great affection among most people in this country. We have a long association with it. President Mugabe is a man widely held in great respect, particularly by those who remember him in the years immediately following independence, for all that he has achieved for his country. I hope that both Zimbabwe and the president regard themselves as friends of this country and that we in turn regard them as good friends.
But both the country and the president have fallen on hard times economically and politically. Government spending is clearly out of control, and the president appears not to have the control over his government that he once had. He has had to make promises and commitments to expenditure that he does not have the means to meet. This has resulted in a considerable economic crisis.
The particular aspect that concerns the House this evening is the land redistribution proposal. That in itself is not something to which we can have any objection. The idea that past history has provided patterns of land ownership that do not fit with the way a country is now and have to be changed by government action is entirely familiar to us. We refer to it as leasehold enfranchisement. That Zimbabwe should wish to do something along the same lines cannot be a matter to which we object. But I believe that we can have reasonable concerns about the details of the proposal: the way the farms have been chosen; to whom they are to be passed; the payment or non-payment of compensation; the access or lack of it of those affected to the courts; and general concerns about human rights, legality and constitutionality. The word used by my noble friend Lady Park that sums it up for me was "transparency."
We also have a right to be concerned about the effects that the proposals will have on the economy of Zimbabwe. Agriculture is enormously important to the country. Even if the current proposals were carried through carefully, as they stand now in the name of benefiting the poor they would create a great deal of additional poverty in Zimbabwe.
I await with great interest what the Minister has to say. I hope that she will confirm what I sense is the Government's policy; namely, that they agree that where Britain gives aid it has a right and duty to see that it is well spent. Further, we should concern
In looking at Zimbabwe as a friend--I hope the Minister will say that Britain is willing to make a substantial commitment to Zimbabwe to help it out of the hole in which it finds itself--we must recognise that to give money without any conditions is to help Zimbabwe dig itself deeper into the hole. If we promise money but make it conditional we will strengthen President Mugabe's hand to deal with Zimbabwe's problems properly. To ensure that money is available only if he does that gives him power to deal with his domestic political problems and so achieve a much better outcome to the problems of that country than seemed likely perhaps even a week ago. I await the Minister's reply with great interest.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for giving us the opportunity to debate the question of land acquisition in Zimbabwe, and to other noble Lords who have participated in the debate.
The British and Zimbabwean people and their Governments have enjoyed a long and enduring friendship and the situation in Zimbabwe is a matter of particular concern to us. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, need have no worries about the depth of our concern about Zimbabwe. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, that our worries and concerns are for all Zimbabweans irrespective of their race or ethnicity.
I begin by saying that the Government recognise that land ownership in Zimbabwe is very unequal and that most Zimbabweans still live on communal lands in conditions of poverty. The Government have a clear interest in Zimbabwe's political, economic and social development. We are committed to the elimination of poverty worldwide. We have offered to assist the Government of Zimbabwe to find an acceptable solution to these issues.
As this is a short debate, your Lordships will not want me to go through the detailed history of this issue, which many of you are familiar with. I shall concentrate on the present situation but I hope the House will bear with me if I recall that land was an important issue for the liberation movement and for the Lancaster House Conference in 1980, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, has reminded us. It was important to the British Government of the day, who
The schemes we have supported have allowed the resettlement of more than 70,000 families. The Government of Zimbabwe have also bought land with their own resources, some of which could now be used for resettlement if they wanted to do so, as the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Sudeley reminded us.
Turning to the present situation, we have heard from many noble Lords that in October 1997 President Mugabe announced that his government intended to acquire 5 million hectares of land by the end of that year. As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has told us, in November 1997 the Zimbabwean Government officially gazetted a list of some 1,470 farms and sent the owners preliminary notices of compulsory acquisition in accordance with the law. Some 1,400 owners have since submitted appeals. The Zimbabwean Government have admitted that there are, what they term, "mistakes" in the list.
President Mugabe has said that his government will not compensate owners for the value of their land. This is one of the grounds on which many of the appeals have been based. As the noble Lord, Lord Plunket, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness have told us, President Mugabe has argued that the farms were stolen from the indigenous population. Whatever the basis for the original settlement, in practice most of the present owners bought their farms after independence and the farms are rightfully owned by Zimbabweans and others under the laws of Zimbabwe.
Her Majesty's Government have a number of other concerns about the programme announced by President Mugabe. It is taking place against the background of a serious economic and financial crisis. The value of the currency has fallen by around 60 per cent. in the past 10 weeks. We understand that the government have now agreed tight budgetary limits with the IMF and World Bank, and that there is very limited financial provision for the programme within their expenditure plans: the government appear to need to cut back on expenditure in other areas in order to accommodate the land programme. We therefore find it difficult to understand how the Government of Zimbabwe can successfully implement this programme. It is not clear who will acquire the farms or under what terms. Nor is it clear what plans the government have made for those currently employed on the farms and their families who will lose their jobs, as the noble Lords, Lord Acton and Lord Vivian, reminded us. We are not aware that the government have made any assessment of the social or environmental impact of the programme, the impact on agricultural production, or the cost-effectiveness of the programme.
President Mugabe's government have asked Britain to support this programme. I have to say that, in the light of the concerns I have just outlined, Her Majesty's Government are unwilling to support those proposals. Those concerns are shared by other countries, the international financial institutions, and by many Zimbabweans. We are concerned that the proposed programme is already having an adverse effect on the economy. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, in a recent letter to the Zimbabwean Minister for Lands and Agriculture, warned that the present land acquisition programme would adversely affect agriculture and investor confidence. She went on to say that our future aid relationship with Zimbabwe, including the possibility of programme aid, would be considered in the context of the Zimbabwe Government's progress in their economic and transformation programme, and wider plans for the elimination of poverty in Zimbabwe. The current financial crisis, recently prompted by the impact on investor confidence by government statements on land, has increased the need for early agreements with the IMF about economic reform programmes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, challenged the answer to a Question given by my noble friend Lord Whitty. She said what was being promised was aid for the alleviation of poverty, but not for land reform. We believe that aid for poverty can be achieved through land reform. That was part of the point of the letter written by my right honourable friend who said that she believed that land reform would be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. She also said that we were prepared to support such a programme. I hope that that answers unequivocally the point drawn to our attention by the noble Baroness.
Many noble Lords have asked what is the way forward. The Government welcome President Mugabe's commitment last week to consult Zimbabwean stakeholders. We hope that that will lead to an agreed programme that we and other donors can support. We recognise the need for major land reforms in Zimbabwe, as have many noble Lords this evening, which will allow poor people to share the benefits from rural investment and agricultural prosperity--a point forcefully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We believe that President Mugabe now needs to confirm in public that the programme will be transparent, legal, and will not jeopardise the Government of Zimbabwe's budget deficit targets, and will aim to alleviate the problem of poverty. Zimbabweans need to know what is going to happen to the farms. President Mugabe is well known to us as a man of courage who is not afraid to take difficult decisions. The British Government hope that he will quickly bring this crisis to an end, so that we and other donors can move forward with the government and people of Zimbabwe to address the urgent problems of poverty and land.
The noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Acton, raised the issue of the Commercial Farmers' Union. The CFU has offered to help develop a planned programme of resettlement. Her Majesty's Government would encourage the Zimbabwean Government to work with
The question was also raised about a possible EU conference. Her Majesty's Government would welcome a proposal for a donor conference. The United Kingdom would be willing to take part in discussions on land reform in Zimbabwe along the lines I have already outlined tonight.
Several noble Lords raised the question about the IMF. Zimbabwe and the IMF agreed in 1991 an economic structural adjustment programme. It ended in 1995 primarily because the Zimbabwean Government were slow to implement public sector reform and failed to control budget expenditure. We understand that the IMF is presently considering a new standby agreement to help Zimbabwe through its current economic difficulties, which need to be submitted to the IMF board. We have encouraged the IMF to take account of the adverse effect of the present land acquisition policy on agriculture, the economy and investor confidence. Given what has been said tonight, I believe that such a line would have the support of your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, raised the fact that the government took over privately held foreign currency accounts in December. We believe that this has clearly damaged business confidence. We understand that the IMF team is currently in Zimbabwe--it was there last week--having discussions about how best to restore confidence in the value of the dollar. We hope that agreement can be reached on that important question.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, raised questions about the way forward and the attitude of the British Government to the issue of illegally acquired land. We must be clear about this. It is for the Zimbabwean Government to decide what to do in their own country. The constitution since 1980 has recognised that powers of compulsory purchase for land resettlement are necessary on the basis of fair, prompt and adequate compensation. Successive British governments have recognised that the powers of compulsory purchase may be needed to carry out successful land reform, but we have told the Zimbabwean Government that we are willing to consider a new programme of assistance for land reform which is transparent, which is affordable and which is set in the context of reducing poverty and accelerating growth.
We have had a thorough debate on this important issue. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I repeat that Her Majesty's Government believe that President Mugabe is a man of courage. Zimbabwe faces a very difficult and worrying situation. Last week, the country witnessed some of the worst street riots and demonstrations since independence. And this is a country which was considered until recently one of the most stable countries in its region.
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