HL Deb 14 October 1981 vol 424 cc376-8

3.5 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what approach they propose to the Government of Zimbabwe in order to alleviate the hardship caused by that Government's restriction on Britons desiring to return to the United Kingdom transferring their household goods and capital.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, British subjects resident in Zimbabwe, many of whom are also citizens of Zimbabwe, are subject to the normal exchange control regulations of that country. The current foreign exchange shortage has compelled the Zimbabwe Government to continue, and in some cases to strengthen, the exchange controls which they inherited on independence. However, the Zimbabwe authorities have assured Her Majesty's Government that they intend to relax the controls as soon as financial circumstances permit, and that they will consider sympathetically any cases of individual hardship.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for that reply, which I am afraid is not entirely satisfactory. May I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of the full effect of these restrictions? For example, is he aware that the capital which is represented by the commuted portion of a man's pension, and which he may have earned over many years, can no longer be transferred to the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that an individual wishing to transfer to this or any other country is now, under these restrictions, totally unable to export his household effects? With regard to the transport allowance to remove these effects to a country of choice, the expenses allowed are only £700 equivalent in sterling to each family and not to an individual. In respect of a maturing insurance policy, the capital which should accrue to the individual concerned can no longer be exported anywhere and is frozen in Zimbabwe. Finally, may I say to my noble friend that I do not criticise the Lancaster House agreement in this connection, and I am in full admiration of that agreement and of the work performed by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary in this matter.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the export of capital from Zimbabwe is, indeed, subject to certain restraints, but of course that is not unique to Zimbabwe. Many countries have exchange control regulations; indeed, we ourselves did until comparatively recently. As for the export of goods, to which my noble friend referred, it is the case that certain regulations have recently been introduced relating to the export of capital goods from Zimbabwe, and when I say "capital goods" I am referring to household capital goods, such as refrigerators, deep freezers and the like. The Zimbabwe authorities have stated that emigrants had been exporting newly purchased items of this kind for resale outside Zimbabwe, in order to evade exchange control regulations, and I imagine that it is for those reasons that these controls were introduced. As for insurance polices, to which my noble friend also referred, I imagine that the proceeds from an insurance policy will be subject to the same regulations as capital sums generally.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, are not all these, or almost all, matters, purely for the Government of Zimbabwe and not for Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is indeed correct, but it is the case that my noble friend has had a continuing interest in this matter and it was, of course, one of the things discussed at the Lancaster House conference.

Lord Oram

My Lords, can the Minister say whether an estimate of the cost of transferring household goods and capital to this country was taken into account when fixing the amount of aid to Zimbabwe? Is that not an important factor in deciding the rights and wrongs of this matter? Despite the implication of the last question, surely Her Majesty's Government have residual responsibilities in these matters.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we are very careful not to link those two things. The purpose of our aid contributions to Zimbabwe, and indeed to any other country, is to help them build up and improve their commercial and economic infrastructure; and no good purpose will be served, I suggest, by linking those two matters.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the matters referred to relate to assurances given to British civil servants, who worked in what was then Rhodesia for many years, and who may feel that they have been badly done by?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there, I think, is a misconception. The Civil Service in Rhodesia, as it then was, was not recruited in the United Kingdom but, generally speaking, was recruited locally.