HC Deb 04 December 1964 vol 703 cc1022-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John Silkin.]

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I congratulate the right hon. Lady the Minister of Overseas Development on the extremely important appointment that she now holds. I also want to say how delighted I am that she herself has come to answer the debate. I hope that our friends of all races in Kenya appreciate that, when a Minister comes to the House to answer a short Adjournment debate, it is an illustration of the importance that the Government attach to the subject.

I believe that the timing of the help we are committed to give the European farmers in Kenya has become of critical importance and that not only is the future of the farming community involved but the whole future stability of the Kenya economy. It is known that over 80 per cent. of the national income of Kenya still comes directly or indirectly from European agriculture.

The European farmers have, of course, left the country in growing numbers and African unemployment, already a serious problem, is increasing. This unemployment is being exploited for political purposes. I believe that, with the best will in the world, the Kenya Government will not long be able to resist a land grab unless it is crystal clear that the present resettlement scheme is to continue and, of course, this can only be the case if it is financed by the British Government.

I want to recall what happened in 1960, when there was an important constitutional conference on Kenya at Lancaster House. It marked the watershed for the Kenya Europeans. It was clear that the African majority would then exercise complete political followed by growing economic control. In spite of this, a large number of European farmers wished, and still wish, to remain in Kenya. But they have asked for some assurance that, if constitutional safeguards fail or if conditions deteriorate to such an extent that they believe they cannot continue to live in Kenya, they should have the opportunity to sell their farms, realise their capital and leave.

In 1960 the position in the scheduled areas was that 2,800 out of a total of 3,600 farms were under 2,000 acres in extent and that these small mixed farms together totalled about 2.8 million acres. They provided farming revenue of about £15 million and employed 175,000 Africans receiving wages totalling about £7 million a year. There was clearly a need to buy out these small mixed farms and split them into units suitable for African settlement.

In November, 1961, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), the Colonial Secretary, introduced the million acre scheme designed to purchase 1,000 of these small mixed farms and settle on them 70,000 African families. This scheme was to operate from July, 1962, until July, 1967. It was to cost £27½ million, of which the British Government would give or lend £19½ million. At the time, the British Government undertook to continue buying land for as long as considered necessary.

That statement was made in Nairobi and has been repeated, in substance at any rate, in various debates in this House. The present position is that, of the 2,800 small mixed farms involved, 1,000 have been included in the million acre scheme, it is estimated that 400 European farmers have left of their own accord, having either sold their farms or left them to go elsewhere, and some 200 will probably stay on under any circumstances. This means, if my arithmetic is right, that about 1,200 still have to be catered for.

It has become known that the money allocated to the million acre scheme has almost run out and, although purchases will continue until June or July of next year, in point of fact very few purchases will actually be made after January, 1965. Urgent action is therefore required to start Phase II of the scheme to cope with a further million acres of farming land. Phase II must include all the remaining small mixed farmers who want to sell. If it does not and if the Government merely allocate a nominal sum there is a danger that there may be a rush to take advantage of whatever sum is available. I should like the British Government to guarantee that all who wish to sell can have their farms purchased at a fair valuation during, say, the next five years.

So far as I have been able to estimate, the expenditure necessary to implement such a guarantee would be something like £1½ million next year rising to something like £6½ million in 1966 and would total over the five years, presumably, something like the expenditure involved in Phase I, about £25 million to £30 million. I wish to stress that the one-third grant element included in Phase I must continue, otherwise it will be impossible for the Kenya Government to pay the farmers a fair valuation and also to service the loan, as the loan charges are now becoming very heavy.

I believe that this matter is one of extreme urgency. Talks have been going on since April of this year and the last Government reached agreement over other forms of development and over the Ol Kalou salient which is a separate question from the one we are discussing today. They did not reach agreement with regard to Phase II of the million acre scheme largely, I understand, because the Kenya negotiators tried to drive too hard a bargain. I understand that now the Government—the right hon. Lady indicated this when answering a Question which I put last week—have confirmed these decisions on the normal development and over the Ol Kalou salient but have not yet made up their mind about Phase II. I also believe that the right hon. Lady is considering sending a mission to Kenya to consider the whole question early next year.

The purpose of this debate is to impress upon the right hon. Lady that time is very short. It is known that organised squatting—I stress the word organized—is taking place in certain areas. The recent report of the Chairman of the British Legion who went to Kenya to look at the position—I hope that the right hon. Lady has seen the report—speaks of a police figure of over 15,000 head of cattle stolen in the last 12 months, and I know of farms where the thefts of wire and stock have exceeded in value the amount of profit which has been made.

The Kenya Government are doing everything they can to help, but a smaller police force is facing a growing number of unemployed. Ex-Mau Mau detainees are planning to seize the farms they had been promised. The recent seizure of farms in Tanzania has increased the tension. The recent expulsion from Kenya of British police officers and journalists—particularly of Mr. Beeston of the Daily Telegraph during the last few days—has contributed to the spreading of alarm and despondency among farmers in Kenya. It is becoming clear that the Kenya Government will not much longer be able to resist the pressure for nationalising the land unless money is forthcoming from this country to pay for the continuation of the resettlement scheme.

I stress that the future of the Kenya economy depends on continuing resettlement. That is why there is very little difference of view between the African and the European farmers in Kenya. One depends on the other. The business community backs this extension of the scheme and the Kenya Government are at one with the farmers and the business community in this matter. The reason is clear. All could face economic disaster were Her Majesty's Government to delay in guaranteeing the continuation of the resettlement scheme.

There are two other related problems which I should like to mention briefly. The first is compassionate cases. These are elderly people who have been living in areas of high security risk and have invested everything they have in their farms or houses. All their capital is locked up in their own farms. They are unable to deal with squatting and thefts and they cannot move unless they can sell their farms and so release their capital. Otherwise they would be completely destitute. The late Government allocated £1 million to help these people. This sum is now exhausted, and I understand that about £¾ million to £1 million is desperately needed to help the remaining compassionate cases.

The second category of farmers whom I should like to mention particularly are the ex-Service men, or, as they are known now, Settlement Board farmers. These are the men who went to Kenya after the Second World War under schemes sponsored by the British Government and who were promised security of tenure for 48 years. In return for participating in this scheme they had to realise every penny of their assets in this country and take those assets to Kenya with them. There are still 200 of these men not included in any of the schemes I have been discussing. I feel personally that we in this House have a special responsibility for these men.

I do not want to detain the House too long on this matter but, in conclusion, I should like to say that British farmers have been and are still the main factor in the economy of Kenya. However, their days are now numbered. I think this is clear from the statement made by the Kenya Minister of Agriculture who returned to Nairobi last week from London after negotiations with the right hon. Lady. I understand that he made a speech in Nairobi saying: Mixed farming areas will have to be Africanised in toto. He went on to say that European farmers will still be needed in Kenya as specialists and in charge of ranches and plantations and as managers of some of the larger estates which might be owned by the State or by other Kenya nationals.

There is certainly no question of trying to push the Eureopean farmer out of Kenya. The Kenya Government want to do the opposite—they want a phased hand-over. But they stress that the small mixed farms are wanted by the African people to run themselves, which they will obviously have to be able to do. I want to emphasise that racial relations in Kenya are good and that the Kenya Government under their able and strong leader, Mr. Jomo Kenyatta, are doing all they can to help. But undoubtedly tension is increasing and the Kenya Government cannot themselves finance these very large-scale resettlement schemes.

The House will remember that the British Government have given or lent to Kenya over £100 million since the end of the Second World War and I suggest that all this could be at risk if we failed to guarantee the continuation of the resettlement schemes.

Therefore, I want to ask four specific questions of the right hon. Lady. First, can she tell us when she is likely to to be able to make a decision on Phase II of the resettlement scheme? I appreciate that she cannot make it straight away. Is it likely to be made in January or will it have to be postponed longer? I emphasise that the longer the delay the more dangerous the situation, and that there is a very great deal at stake.

Secondly, are Her Majesty's Government willing to maintain the grant element in any future scheme for resettlement? Can the one-third grant element in the million acre scheme be continued in Phase II?

Thirdly, could she undertake to see that all these farms are fairly valued—that is, have a fair valuation put upon them? This is a complicated question. Suffice is to say that the suggestion of the Kenya Government of profitability times eight may be all right for the Ol Kalou salient but would not be considered a fair valuation for the whole country in the second phase of the million acre scheme.

My last question is this. Can the right hon. Lady say what sums the Cabinet has in mind to allocate to relieve the distress of the compassionate cases to which I have referred? These are four questions to which I should be very grateful to have a positive answer. I want to stress again that this is in no way a question between black and white, or between Britain and Kenya. All would suffer if Her Majesty's Government failed to make up their minds quickly. I know that the right hon. Lady would wish to help in every way she can. I hope that she will be able to persuade the Cabinet that this is an urgent matter and that the Cabinet must make a rapid decision. If she does so, I am sure that she will have the full support of hon. Members on this side of the House.

4.15 p.m.

The Minister of Overseas Development (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for his kind congratulations to me on my appointment, and also for the helpful way in which he has introduced this subject. He said that my presence here as Minister to answer the debate was evidence of the importance which my Department and Her Majesty's Government attach to this question. I point out that not only am I present, but that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is here as well. That must be a guarantee of the very high priority which we give to this matter.

I fully appreciate the importance of the question which the hon. Member has raised. As we all know, those of us who have followed the Kenya situation, the land question has always been at the heart of the problem, both politically and economically. We would also agree that there has always been a special problem here to an extent not found in other Commonwealth countries of Africa. On the one hand, there has been a large European farming community which has made a vital contribution to the country's economy. On the other, there has been the land hunger of the Africans who, understandably, expect that independence will bring some relief of this hunger and of the acute unemployment from which they suffer.

As the hon. Member said, the Kenya Government have tried constructively to recognise the claims of these two sections of the community. I entirely endorse what he said. Race relations in Kenya are good. I wish to associate myself with the tribute the hon. Member paid to the Kenya Government and the spirit in which they are approaching this highly difficult question. The Kenya Government have made it clear that any European farmer who is willing to take Kenya citizenship and identify himself fully with the new Kenya will be welcome to stay on in Kenya, provided, of course, that he continues to farm well.

The Kenya Government have sought to secure an orderly transfer into African hands of the land of those Europeans who could not accept those conditions. I think it true to say that this has been a non-party matter. All parties in this House have welcomed this approach by the Kenya Government. We have all supported the financial help which the previous Government of this country have given to this end. As the hon. Member rightly reminded us, Her Majesty's Government are already contributing, very large sums to land settlement schemes in Kenya. There is the million acre scheme, which the hon. Member mentioned—launched in 1962—under which European mixed farms have been bought by the Kenya Government and transferred to African hands. In addition, there is a much smaller scheme, of which no doubt the hon. Member is aware, covering about 180,000 acres, in which the World Bank and the Commonwealth Corporation are co-operating.

The total cost of these schemes to Her Majesty's Government will be about £20 million. According to my latest figures about 600 farms have been purchased so far. In addition, help has been given in compassionate cases to people who on grounds of age, infirmity or remoteness of their farms are subject to special risks. About 100 farms have been acquired under these schemes, so far at a cost to the British taxpayer of £700,000.

Again, in 1963–64 we made available £1 million to the Land Bank and the Agricultural Finance Corporation to enable them to finance transfers at current market values. Another £1 million were given in 1964–65. So a great deal has already been done to help the Kenya Government to face this problem.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the million acre scheme covered a five-year period and is due to end in 1966. It was obvious that some more thought would have to be given to the problem before that year was reached. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in talking about phase 2 of the million acre scheme, because the undertakings given by the previous Government were never as specific as that. In November, 1963, the then Commonwealth Secretary recalled his predecessor's undertaking and reaffirmed it, which is in rather less specific terms. The undertaking was to review the million acre scheme in its last year of operation.

It was also made clear that Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to participate in an extension of the scheme". There was no definite commitment as to the scope of that extension. The actual words were that Her Majesty's Government would be willing to participate in an extension of the scheme if at that time"— that is, at the time of review— this seemed necessary and desirable."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 1395. The then Commonwealth Secretary also said in November, 1963, that the British and Kenya Governments had reached the conclusion that the proposed review should not wait till the last year of the operation of the scheme—1966—but should take place in 1964.

Earlier this year the Kenya Government raised this matter with Her Majesty's Government and asked for further financial help to effect the transfer to African hands of those mixed European farms whose owners were not willing to stay on in Kenya. The suggestion was that all these farms should be bought out over a period of five to six years. This would mean about 1¼million acres being acquired. The Kenya Government also asked for further support for the transactions of the Land Bank. The total cost of the request they put to us would be in the neighbourhood of £30 million. I am sure that the whole House would agree that this is a large sum of money coming at a difficult time in our own economy.

The previous Government, understandably enough, reached no decision in the last years of their life. They were quite right not to do so. Equally, the present Government, in the first weeks of their life, cannot commit themselves to the expenditure of this sum of money without going very carefully indeed into the proposals which have been made to them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.

Mr. Wall indicated assent.

Mrs. Castle

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman as much as said so. It would be irresponsible for me, after a very few weeks of the setting up of my Department, to commit the taxpayers of this country to the expenditure of that sum.

Mr. Wall

I accept that, but will the right hon. Lady accept that the Kenya Government are in the position that they may well be faced with a land grab next spring? To anticipate that land grab, and maintain control, they may have to nationalise land, which will be disastrous to Kenya's economy and will stop foreign investment.

Mrs. Castle

I fully appreciate that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am giving very urgent consideration indeed to this matter. As I think he knows, I have already had very detailed talks with the Kenyan Ministers who have been visiting this country. I have had talks with Mr. Pollard, the Chairman of the Kenya National Farmers' Union. I assure the hon. Gentleman that they have left me in no doubt at all as to their view of the position and of its urgency.

As a result of the talks that I have had, as I told the hon. Member on 27th November, we have reached final agreement on a further sum of £1½ million to enable the Kenya Government to purchase about 100 European mixed farms in the Ol Kalou salient, which adjoins on both sides the land which has been resettled under the million acre scheme. As I announced at the same time, we have agreed to provide a further appropriate sum for the purchase of additional properties on the same compassionate grounds as have ruled before.

This is the answer to the fourth of the questions which the hon. Gentleman put to me. He asked me for a specific sum. I am sure he will understand that it is impossible for me to give it because, by the very nature of these cases, every one of them must be considered on their merits and the details of what will be required for this purpose are now being worked out.

Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)

Can my hon. Friend tell me what is the present number of compassionate cases on the list?

Mrs. Castle

I think that it is about 160, but I would not like that to be taken as a final figure, because we have got to examine the cases individually. But at the moment I think that that is about the extent of the problem. The details are now being worked out and we have expressed our willingness to make a further sum available in appropriate cases. It is now for us to work out the applications.

On the larger question, I can only assure the hon. Member that we fully realise how anxious both the Kenya Government and the European farmers are to know where they stand with the least possible delay. In the meantime, I would point out that the Kenya Government's expression of opinion, that any European farmer who is willing to take Kenya citizenship will be welcome to stay, provided that he continues to farm well, still holds.

I should add that it is only the mixed farmer whom the Kenya Government are proposing to include in the new scheme. There is no question of including British farmers who are operating ranches and plantations. They are still wanted, and there is no pressure for them to leave. My reply to the hon. Member's question is that I cannot give an exact date as to when I shall be able to announce our decision. I can only give him my sincere promise that we shall press ahead with a decision as quickly as possible so that everybody knows where he is.

With regard to the grant element, I am sure that the hon. Member will realise that both the basis of valuation and the question whether or not a grant element will be included in the financial arrangements must await the outcome of our consideration of the proposals and the talks that we shall be continuing to have. Clearly, it would be wrong, before we had even decided whether there should be another phase, and the extent of it, to try to outline the system of valuation or the form which the British Government's financial help should take.

I cannot be more definite than that, but I think that the hon. Gentleman understands that this is not just evasiveness. The fact is that this is a very difficult problem. It is a difficult decision to make in view of this country's limited resources and our desire to spread them as effectively as we can over a large number of applicants.

Mr. Wall

Can the hon. Lady say that it is Her Majesty's Government's intention, as far as possible, that the resettlement scheme will continue? Can she go as far as that?

Mrs. Castle

I would not like to add to what I have said. I can only assure the hon. Gentleman that a decision will be made and announced as quickly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.