HL Deb 20 October 1993 vol 549 cc569-70

3.5 p.m.

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether overseas aid from the United Kingdom to Zimbabwe should continue when the Government of Zimbabwe are considering the confiscation of land from productive farmers for resettlement purposes.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, our aid to Zimbabwe aims to support its economic and social development. The Government of Zimbabwe have had a policy of voluntary land redistribution and resettlement since 1980. Farms acquired under the Land Acquisition Act 1992 have, so far, been bought with compensation at full market rates. In the most recent round of designations under the Act, none has yet been acquired. A dozen designations are being contested.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her helpful reply. Is she aware that the Commercial Farmers Union has offered land for resettlement purposes and that that has been rejected by the Zimbabwe Government? Is she also aware that any land given for resettlement purposes does not have security for title deed, and that farmers who have been given resettled land have not farmed it and have left it to become waste and barren?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the Commercial Farmers Union has worked closely with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture to draw up lists of farms agreed by both sides for designation. The Government of Zimbabwe have acknowledged that past resettlement schemes have not been wholly successful. Therefore, in future farms will be assessed for their suitability for sub-division. Trained farmers are to be involved and the Commercial Farmers Union is keen to help. It will seek to deal with land where livestock grazing per hectare will avoid land being overgrazed and unsuitable land will be considered further for suitable uses. I understand the anxiety about title deeds, but the Land Tenure Commission is to be set up in the next few weeks and will consider the issue of security of tenure for resettled farmers.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties is that much of the commercial land is under-utilised or held by absentee landlords, while soil erosion, siltation of rivers and extensive deforestation are turning other large areas into land which cannot support the people who live on it? Does she not agree that' in those circumstances regulated transfer is infinitely better than seizure and squatting, which seem all too likely to occur in the circumstances?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that seizure and squatting are not the way to go. That is why I welcome the fact that the Commercial Farmers Union appears to be working with the Zimbabwean Ministry to try to resolve the problem. We have always urged that the whole process should be on the basis of a willing seller and a willing buyer. I believe that it is right that we try to encourage the best land use possible. That means having great regard for the environment and not worsening the condition of the land, which can be due, first, to drought and then heavy rain.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, what is the current amount of British aid to Zimbabwe?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the current out-turn this financial year will be about £30 million, including the Aid and Trade Provision which, as my noble friend knows, goes to British industry which is supplying goods to the people of Zimbabwe. Part of that money has been used for the recovery from the drought, which required special assistance.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, when I asked about the issue last year, before the passing of the Act, my noble friend the Minister was kind enough to say that nothing should be done to kill the geese which lay the golden eggs: the productive farmers, both black and white. Will she assure the House that if such a danger were to arise representations would be made?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend Lady Park that we have already made representations. I have had several discussions on the matter with members of the Government of Zimbabwe, including the Agriculture Minister Kangai, and I hope that they are taking developments made to the land and the investment in infrastructure into account when assessing compensation under the Land Acquisition Act 1992. That was the basis of much of the discontent which existed before the Act came into being.