HL Deb 27 January 1998 vol 585 cc200-22

9.45 p.m.

Lord Vivian rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they view the Zimbabwean Government's current policy on land acquisition.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have recently returned from a visit to Zimbabwe, where I met many farmers, area representatives of the Commercial Farmers Union, the Farmers Development Trust and the Farmers Association. I was shown vast tracts of unused government acquired land, communal lands, indigenous resettled land and commercial farming land. I was taken to an agricultural college, and I had lengthy discussions with the president of the Commercial Farmers Union and the British High Commissioner, who were both most helpful. I have a clear understanding of the chronic need for irrigation for crops in Zimbabwe.

One of the reasons for my visit was that President Mugabe had announced that he would compulsorily acquire some 1,471 farms, the majority of which were owned by farmers who possessed only one farm. The statement was soon followed by a list of owners and farms published in the Zimbabwean Gazette dated 28th November of last year. It was also announced that the Zimbabwean Government would not give any compensation for land but only for improvements to farm buildings. There are some 15,000 United Kingdom citizens and a further 30,000 with dual nationality living in Zimbabwe.

When I left Zimbabwe on 10th January the position was that the Zimbabwean Government's approach to their land acquisition policy was softening. The Commercial Farmers Union had formed Team Zimbabwe, which consists of the four sectors providing the main input into the economy. These are agriculture, which contributes about 44 per cent. of the total export earnings; mining; tourism; and the banking and financial sectors, which make up the other 56 per cent. Team Zimbabwe is influential. All four sectors speaking as Team Zimbabwe clearly understand and have made it well known that if the agriculture sector fails the others would also fail, thereby destroying the economy.

All sectors of the community, including the white farmers, agree that there is an urgent need for land reform and the Commercial Farmers Union has good relations with the Government, but the process of land acquisition must be carried out in a logical, fair and transparent way. It must be in accordance with existing criteria agreed after the Land Act 1992, which was that land should only be acquired if it was derelict, vacant and underutilised; owned by absentee landlords and foreigners; held under multiple ownership, and for social and political reasons under which alternative land would be offered to the farmers concerned. The perception that acquiring land without fair compensation would satisfy the demands of the electorate in general and the so-called war veterans is very wide of the mark and the majority of the electorate is against it.

These farms represent Zimbabwe's greatest employer of labour, its largest contributor to the gross domestic product (the principal measure of economic performance), the biggest single source of vital foreign exchange resources and the primary stimulant of economic activity in the industrial, commercial and financial sectors. The proposed method of land acquisition would alienate international support and totally destroy all incentive on the part of foreign and domestic investors to provide the country with the investment so essential to provide the economic growth for Zimbabwe's survival. Without economic growth there can be no possibility of poverty alleviation, which should be the overall aim of this country.

Prior to my return to London, President Mugabe had given welcome assurances to the CFU that genuine grievances in the land acquisition programme would be considered and provincial committees, including farmers, would be set up as part of the consultative process, in addition to other current consultations as the land acquisition exercise progresses. The CFU's policy states that the political imperative of land reform, land acquisition and redistribution of land should not be regarded only as an end in itself, but as a means to improve agricultural efficiency and contribute to increasing farm incomes, the eradication of poverty and the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally stable path for economic development within the context of the current liberalisation of the economy. The acquisition of commercial farms by their government for whatever reason, including social and political interests, must be judged in terms of human rights, its contribution to economic growth, greater food security, job creation and stability, reinforcing balanced development of rural areas and facilitating trade in primary and processed agricultural products. Compulsory acquisition of land in the national interests for resettlement in terms of the Land Acquisition Act 1992 was accepted by the CFU, farmers and government as a means, in addition to negotiated land sales, of acquiring land within existing criteria. It will serve to underpin more equitable patterns of development to ensure economic growth and greater integration of the rural and urban economies with the main aim of enhancing the welfare and livelihood of all farmers in a peaceful Zimbabwe. In 1996–97 large-scale farming production was over 14 billion Zimbabwe dollars and the value of exports over 10 billion dollars. If the proposed land acquisition goes ahead, after taking only 1 million hectares commercial production will drop to some 8.8 billion dollars, and exports will decrease to about 6.6 billion dollars. Employment will be reduced from 327,000 to about 180,000.

Those figures stress the absolutely vital necessity for land acquisition and resettlement to be carried out within the existing criteria if resettled farms are to be productively utilised and employment maintained. It is essential that single owner farms should remain outside the criteria otherwise the economy, without any shadow of doubt, will be ruined. As a primary industry in Zimbabwe, agricultural output and earnings, and farm workers' output and earnings are a massive multiplier in the whole economy.

In that connection, I spoke to a number of resettled farmers who had been trained at the Farmers' Development Trust agricultural colleges. During my conversation with them, I discovered that it was government policy not to release title deed to them. Those farmers will assist the economy with productive farming, provided that they have title deed to secure bank loans for seed, fertiliser, and agricultural equipment. Without title deed, the land cannot be used for farming and will become derelict.

In conclusion, the Zimbabwean Government should be encouraged to provide irrigation for farms; to give title deed to resettled farmers; and to accept the Team Zimbabwe policy on land reform. Furthermore, the international financial and banking institutions, the UK, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union should not advance one single penny of aid without a clear mandate from President Mugabe that he will conform to their laid-down conditions, and that he will stick to the established land reform criteria and withdraw his policy of compulsory acquisition of single-owner farms.

The United Kingdom Government are to be congratulated on the firm line they have taken on the Zimbabwean land acquisition policy. The British High Commissioner, Martin Williams, is also to be congratulated on the determined lead he has taken to ensure that land policy matters are conducted in a fair, open and logical way. I am particularly grateful to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for all her advice and help on this somewhat sensitive and delicate Question. I am very much looking forward to her reply.

9.51 p.m.

Lord Acton

My Lords, at the outset, I must say that the farm of a Zimbabwean nephew of mine has been listed for compulsory acquisition and currently he awaits the result of his appeal. I was brought up on a Southern Rhodesian farm and after independence I worked for the new government from 1981 to 1985. I speak tonight not so much as an uncle, but as one who has an enormous affection for Zimbabwe and for all its people, black and white.

On 28th November 1997, the Zimbabwe Government listed 1,503 commercial farms, amounting to some 5 million hectares, for compulsory acquisition. Compensation would be paid only for improvements and not for the land itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said. The land is meant to be redistributed after the 1998 harvest mainly among war veterans and subsistence black farmers.

Since the listing, in Zimbabwe there has been a deep plunge in confidence in the Zimbabwe dollar and stock market. The Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents 4,000 mainly white, large-scale farmers, has calculated that there will be steep declines in farm production and exports if the land is taken. Moreover, the CFU stresses that 147,000 jobs are at risk. In a country where the average family is 6.4 people, nearly 1 million black people are directly threatened. Small wonder that the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe has expressed serious concern.

Moreover, 200 of the 1,503 farmers who were listed are members of the Indigenous Commercial Farmers' Union, representing small and large-scale black commercial farmers. Thus, huge numbers of black people could be affected as well as the core white landowners.

Two shafts of light shone on to that bleak picture last week. The CFU presented to ministers a paper entitled Land Reform Programme, brimming with ideas of how it could help the government. I mention some of its suggestions. The CFU believes that a maximum of 1.5 million hectares of commercial farmland could be identified for settling the landless. It plans capital structures for war veterans on commercial and communal lands. The CFU believes that it could help black would-be commercial farmers by arranging concessionary loans from banks and also by offering advice and training. Furthermore, the CFU stresses that it can be of great help to the government in attracting international donor support.

The central suggestion of the CFU is the preparation of an overall land reform plan by the government, together with the CFU, the African Farmers' Union, which represents subsistence farmers, the indigenous Commercial Farmers' Union, which I have mentioned, donor agencies and others. The ideas cover seven pages and the minister of agriculture, Mr. Kangai, was fully briefed on them last week. The CFU tells me that he is supportive of its suggestions. So much for the first shaft of light.

The second shaft of light shone last Thursday, 22nd January, when President Mugabe spoke at a national economic consultative forum. He said that farmers, banks and donors should all be involved in land acquisition and the land reform programme. The mention of donors is of special interest for that is the first time President Mugabe has spoken of them being involved directly.

That statement brings to mind a meeting on 7th January of this year in Brussels between President Mugabe and the European Development Commissioner, Professor Pinheiro. At that meeting, the Commissioner suggested a donor conference where the Government of Zimbabwe and all the "stakeholders" concerned, including the donor community, could discuss the implementation of land reform. The European Union proposal of a donors' conference is only three weeks old. President Mugabe's statement last week and the Zimbabwe minister of agriculture's reaction to the CFU's paper provide some hope that the donors' conference might, at length, come to pass. Certainly, Her Majesty's Government should and no doubt will make every effort to encourage all concerned to get together under European Union auspices to discuss a further plan about Zimbabwean land acquisition.

10.1 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for enabling us to discuss this important issue. From 1960 onwards, I visited Zimbabwe where I have friends and connections among the farmers who have farmed the land there for three generations. They have stayed there through good times and bad. They are Zimbabwe citizens wholly committed to their country.

I was brought up in Tanganyika, then a mandated territory, and later served as a diplomat both in the Congo before and after independence and in Zambia from 1964 to 1967, before and after Ian Smith declared UDI. At that time I had friends in both ZANU, President Mugabe's party, and ZAPU. Indeed, I was denounced on Salisbury Radio as a friend of terrorists and not infrequently threatened. Therefore, I am not ill-placed to understand and feel concerned for both white and black citizens of Zimbabwe, as well as for the stability of Southern Africa as a whole.

This is a delicate moment in the discussions which must be taking place behind the scenes between the farmers' union and Zimbabwean ministers. I believe that there is good will on both sides at the working level and a real wish to find a solution to a political problem which seems to have got out of control.

It was reassuring to read in the press last week that during the negotiations with the European Union and the World Bank, the Zimbabwe finance minister gave a written undertaking, said to be cleared by the president, that land reform would be carried out, in a transparent way, in accordance with the rule of law and the terms of the constitution".

However, the IMF, which has not yet agreed to a loan, proved to be right in making a condition of the first tranche that President Mugabe should make a public statement in Zimbabwe that his government would not only carry out land reform transparently but would pay for the land as well as for the improvements made by white farmers. It would also be essential for him publicly to confirm his commitment to the rule of law and thus allow appeals to the courts, which he has hitherto refused to permit.

Unfortunately, President Mugabe's most recent public statement last week was that he had no intention of abandoning his stated policy of seizing farms without compensation and that he will not turn back on the issue of land sequestration. That can only create major problems not only in relation to his hopes of support from the EU, the World Bank and the IMF, whose normal practice it is the world over to set conditions for economic policy once it is dispensing international funds, but also for the stability of Zimbabwe and the whole area. I shall be glad to hear from the Minister whether the more hopeful view of the noble Lord, Lord Acton, as regards President Mugabe's most recent commitment is the right one. President Mugabe evidently assessed the political risks and concluded that he could best solve his internal problems by renewing his commitment to proceed against the farmers, although it is doubtful whether he even has the money to meet the scale of compensation which he has envisaged.

President Mugabe showed both magnanimity and statesmanship in his relations with the former Ministers of the Smith regime in the aftermath of independence. He has over many years retained a particular ideological respect for the Chinese. He is an African leader of standing and most of them are, like the Chinese, pragmatic and practical in their approach to political problems.

Zimbabwe has until recently been a successful country. What happens there has repercussions for all its neighbours. The president must be well aware that in a world where everything financial interlocks, no man and no country is an island. He will know that his people look to him to show wisdom, tense though the situation has become. He recently bowed to the party congress on another issue. He made a decision last week to stand by his original intention on the farms. Because he is the president and that was a presidential decision, he and he alone can change his mind and be seen to do so. It takes a big man to do that.

His Ministers, speaking with his sanction to the EU, promised that the process of land reform would not affect agricultural production or workers' security. That needs to be said publicly, together with the statement that the IMF asked for. It is indispensable to restore the morale not just of the farmers, the investors, the banks, tourism and all the other sectors of the country's economy upon which economic stability and viability depend, but above all of the black citizens of Zimbabwe. An unstable economy and widespread unemployment, not only in the agricultural sector, are something that no responsible head of state could contemplate, and must be far from President Mugabe's true intentions.

It is in his power to be seen to be both wise and strong enough to afford to change his mind, not only for the good of Zimbabwe but in the interests of the whole of southern Africa. Economic collapse and general unemployment will have serious consequences for Zimbabwe's neighbours and could destabilise the whole area, and especially South Africa at a critical time. The president can change all this and create confidence in the future at a stroke by saying that he now abandons the policy of sequestration in favour of a plan of land reform to be worked out with the farmers on the lines suggested by the IMF, which would then be coupled with a major sustainable development programme of roads, dams, better public transport and schools, and above all training for young African farmers. Such a programme is already being financed by the commercial farmers' union and many farmers already do this individually. The farmers have constructive ideas and the will to make them work once they have a guarantee of stability.

There are many Zimbabwean citizens, white and black, who are committed to their country and want to make things work. Of course there is a recognised need for land reform, but not at the terrible cost of the present plans for arbitrary confiscation and the mass unemployment which must follow, to say nothing of the waste of farms which will turn merely into land. Zimbabwe is potentially a hugely successful country. This is the president's chance to be remembered as the man strong enough to change his mind and wise enough to harness the good will of both white and black. The decision is his. It could mean life not death for his country and, politically speaking, for him too.

10.8 p.m.

Lord Plunket

My Lords, as I have lived and worked in Zimbabwe for over 40 years I must declare that interest. I am not a Zimbabwean citizen. If I were, I should not be able to take the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty and thus stand here and address your Lordships. However, the merits of that of course your Lordships can judge for yourselves.

When the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, about land reform and acquisition was tabled on the Order Paper, Zimbabweans were voicing their general disgruntlement but the civil unrest had not begun. The rioting was the result of the government's inept handling of the economy and unpopular measures to deal with the effects of rising inflation and the hike in the price of basic foodstuffs. It was not about land reform.

The economy and well being of the population depend on the Zimbabwean Government finding solutions to both problems. Proof of that is that only last Thursday there was a new initiative and the national economic forum—my noble friend Lord Acton mentioned it—was formed and had its first meeting attended by President Mugabe, his three cabinet ministers most involved, the leaders of industry and the president of the Commercial Farmers Union of which I am an ordinary member. At that meeting the CFU put forward a plan for land reform. It was well received and is at this moment the only structured proposal on the table. It is important that the emotional concept and the constitutional and legal position of land reform do not become confused.

The war, our war, as we call the senseless fighting in the late 70s, was about land inequitably distributed between black and white. Much has already been redressed. Where 100 white families lived between Chimanimani on the borders of Mozambique, where I grow trees, and Mutare, our nearest town 100 miles away, there is not one single white farmer left. No trouble, no fuss, my Lords. Then there are areas where thousands of hectares have been bought for resettlement which are lying derelict for lack of infrastructure, know-how and wherewithal.

That causes frustration and fosters the myth that the land was stolen and the people have the right to take it back. But it is not like that. Of the farms listed, 70 per cent.—it is important to get it straight that the 1,500 farms have been listed under the Land Acquisition Act: none of them has been designated to be taken over—were bought by their present owners after independence and were conveyed to them under Zimbabwean law. The other 30 per cent. were all purchased.

The past, the present and the future were all given recognition in the new constitution, so patiently and successfully negotiated by my noble friend Lord Carrington. This has been amended in the meanwhile but it still remains and in the context of land reform gives internationally understood protection of property rights. The Land Acquisition Act lays down the procedure by which the landowners receive full compensation for the land and the improvements.

Today I believe that President Mugabe has a greater crisis on his hands than at any time since independence. How is he to close the gap between the expectations of the people who put him into power and the reality of rising inflation, dwindling foreign reserves, balance of payments problems and a budget deficit level which, if exceeded, would put off the IMF and donor countries?

However, the crisis has brought about a meeting of minds in the national economic forum. On the face of it one might be surprised that there is a problem. When one goes about one's daily business in Harare or elsewhere, in a bank for instance, the tellers are black and the bank manager is black, but there are few of them in the board room. The land reform question is not just about the resettlement of landless peasants. It is also about educated and ambitious blacks resenting that they are poorly represented in the corridors of commercial and industrial power, and in commercial farming. Land reform has been left too long; but I say as an optimist—I am still, at my age, planting trees—that it is not too late.

President Mugabe has to be persuaded that land acquisition is part of a clear strategy for the development of the country as a whole, and not a separate issue. He has to be persuaded that the support of the British Government, the IMF and other foreign governments and donors depends on that. Thus it is necessary that his ministers and their permanent secretaries responsible for land and agriculture are given a properly thought-out programme to achieve resettlement and the continuation of profitable commercial farming, and that they are allowed, without interference, to get on with what they want, and have, to do.

There is a lull at this moment in the rhetoric and the unrest. No one must be allowed to fritter away the goodwill that still remains. This opportunity to plan and carry out comprehensive land reform beneficial to all Zimbabweans, as part of an overall development strategy, must not be allowed to slip away.

10.16 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, we owe gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for this timely debate. I wish to place on record my thanks to the noble Lord for this opportunity.

This debate on land redistribution in Zimbabwe is indeed timely. Many societies wonder about amelioration of past wrongs. President Mugabe is surely neither alone nor unjustified in responding to such pressures. However, expropriation and dictated, abrupt revolution will not help Zimbabwe. While understanding land ownership problems in the post-colonial world, we need to encourage other solutions which will be in line with democracy, the rule of law and the preservation and enhancement of wealth producing activities. That is an historic task that we have already shouldered but not fulfilled.

I turn to the Supplement to Annex C, an extract from the chairman's statement to the plenary session of the conference on 11th October 1979 concerning the question of land. The chairman spoke as follows: We recognise that the future Government of Zimbabwe, whatever its political complexion, will wish to extend land ownership … the Independence Constitution will make it possible to acquire under-utilised land compulsorily provided that adequate compensation is paid. Any resettlement scheme would … have to be carefully prepared and implemented to avoid adverse effects on production. The Zimbabwe Government might well wish to draw in outside donors such as the World Bank in preparing and implementing a full-scale agricultural development plan. The British Government … will be prepared … to help … would be prepared to contribute to the initial capital … We should … be ready to support the efforts of the Government of independent Zimbabwe to obtain international assistance for these purposes".

The reply of the Patriotic Front delegation to the chairman's statement talked about such major issues as land, and reserved its position. However, a few days later, in a further reply on 18th October, the Patriotic Front declared: When the Conference adjourned we stated that we required clarification on the fund relating to the land question to which the Chairman had made reference. We have now obtained assurances that, depending on a successful outcome of the Conference, Britain, the United States of America and other countries will participate in a multinational financial donor effort to assist in land, agricultural and economic development programmes. These assurances go a long way in allaying the great concern we have over the whole land question arising from the great need our people have for land and our commitment to satisfy that need when in government".

Well, it never seemed to happen. That is perhaps why President Mugabe claimed the other day that it was immoral for 4,500 people to occupy 70 per cent. of prime farmland and talked about taking back the black birthright. Against this backdrop of social problems and apparent economic mismanagement since 1980, there were the 70 per cent. drop of the Zimbabwe dollar against the US dollar last year alone, inflation above 20 per cent. since 1991 every year, high interest rates, the civil servants' strikes which meant that President Mugabe gave them an increase of 35 per cent. in wages last July with an inflation rate of 22 per cent., the war veterans' demands, which had to be given in to. A 50,000 Zimbabwe dollar payment each was promised, with a 2,000 Zimbabwe dollar monthly pension. There was a union strike over the new tax to pay the veterans and the taxes were then scrapped, although the payments had been guaranteed. There was the new petrol subsidy. All those were combined with a rise in the cost of basic commodities of between 17 per cent. and 45 per cent. due to the fall of the Zimbabwe dollar, the increased input costs in the last quarter of 1997 and the cost of maize meal—a basic staple which had a price rise not once but twice in January this year, first by 25 per cent. and then by a further 21 per cent. The government forced millers to withdraw the second rise.

The fact is that there are insufficient government funds to meet those stated obligations. The local currency has not been replenished as outside investors keep profits in external currencies. There is heavy reliance on overseas donors, but still no coming forward by the donor countries, particularly the United Kingdom, in the scale and manner described and accepted on 11th and 18th October 1979.

I turn to a Written Answer of 11th December 1997 by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It mentions a total of about £40 million which the United Kingdom has given to Zimbabwe recently. However, the Answer states clearly and understandably this Government's policy of depending upon the Zimbabwe Government's commitment to the reduction of poverty as the basis for consideration of the possibility of establishing a partnership for further funding. So land reform is still not on the agenda in the way we earlier promised.

Of course, President Mugabe's recent land ownership pronouncements have had a debilitating effect on investor confidence, on capital values and on the economy, and abrupt actions in agriculture particularly can jeopardise 44 per cent. of the country's export earnings. We have heard already how productive Zimbabwe's farmers have been. Capital investment has now, I believe, stopped. Next year's fertiliser has not been ordered by many farmers and the consequent effects on long and short term production will be highly negative.

But Zimbabwe has many high value assets, much management expertise and a substantial skilled labour force. Surely the United Kingdom has to be cautious in intervening in another country's domestic affairs. We must not seem to be defending white interests against black interests. I believe we must remember our historic involvement in, and our responsibility for, past injustices by the state and the British people. To be blunt, land ownership moved under duress into white hands.

The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the other external donor bodies in which we are active members can assist now in safeguarding the value of agricultural production and restoring investor confidence in partnership with government. That must be within the rule of law and with the resumption of democratic principles as an imperative.

Even at this late stage, 18 years on, I suggest that the United Kingdom should pick up its stated and accepted responsibility to act as catalyst and limited guarantor for international funding of Zimbabwe's land redistribution—but on a willing seller/buyer farm development basis.

10.24 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, since 1980 I have been lucky enough to visit Zimbabwe once every two or three years. I have enjoyed visiting that lovely country. When I occupied the position that the Minister now occupies I used to ask myself on these occasions what business it was of ours to discuss such matters. In this instance there are three interests which affect this country. First, President Mugabe has said on the land acquisition problem that it is for the British Government and the British taxpayer to compensate white farmers for the loss of their land. The second interest is that 20,000 or 30,000 Zimbabwean residents are British citizens. The third interest is the overseas aid budget.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, referred to a Written Answer, which I was given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, before Christmas, saying that our overseas aid to Zimbabwe is still quite considerable. One of the reasons it is being reviewed at the moment, as the noble Lord said in his Answer, is to alleviate poverty. I wonder what the land acquisition policy will do for the alleviation of poverty. I should be grateful if the Minister could give some indication as to how the policy will alleviate poverty.

The commercial farmers of Zimbabwe are responsible for more than 40 per cent. of the country's gross national product. If one goes to supermarkets one sees on the shelves Zimbabwe beans, Zimbabwe baby sweet corn, and so on. That is marvellous and it is something we would not have seen in earlier years. I wonder whether we will still see that happening under Mugabe's policy.

I said earlier that I first went to Zimbabwe in 1980. At that time the Zimbabwe dollar was worth 75p. There are now 33 Zimbabwe dollars to the pound. That is not good. I understand that, along with the land acquisition policy, the Zimbabwe authorities are threatening to confiscate foreign currency accounts, whereby if you earn money in foreign currency you can keep it. Farmers could spend it on parts for their tractor or Land Rover. If that is to be stopped—I do not know whether the Minister has any information on this—it will be a serious matter. If farmers do not have the ability to replace those spare parts, the business will go.

In recent days we have seen conflicting press statements. Some have said that Mugabe will accept the strictures of the EU and the IMF and that everything will be all right. Others have said that he does not like to take the advice of the EU and the IMF and that the land acquisition policy will go ahead. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what the latest situation is.

I should like to thank the Minister for the help that she has been able to give to those of us who are interested in this issue. This should not be a confrontational debate but, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, there are serious British interests involved.

10.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I join this debate with sadness; sadness for the Zimbabweans, sadness for its wildlife and sadness for the country. On 31st March last year, £1 sterling bought 18.4 Zim dollars. Last Friday, at the close of business, it bought 31.5. That is nearly 100 per cent. devaluation in less than a year. Businessmen are already buying forward in order to protect themselves. Inflation is running at 24 per cent. and rising. The IMF suspended multilateral credits, the population growth is exceeding economic growth, and over 50 per cent. of the population is under 25 years of age. Sadly, it is a country with problems.

But thank goodness for democracy. The December issue of the First Merchant Bank's quarterly guide to the economy stated that the combined bill for the servicing of Zimbabwe's debt, public service and defence salaries, and the payouts to former Zanla and Zipra combatants will absorb the government's entire revenue from taxes and duties. All other expenditure will have to be financed by further local and international borrowings, which will, in turn, increase the debt service burden in future years. This means that every litre of petrol put into government vehicles, every bandage used in hospitals, every chair and desk bought this year, will he purchased with borrowed money. [President Mugabe] will go down in history as the man who halved the nation's wealth in a matter of weeks—and he cannot put the blame on anyone else this time. The land issue (over which there is no longer any opposition. in principle), has been handled with all the viciousness of a spoilt child".

Those are not my words but appeared in the leader in the Zimbabwean Sunday Standard of 18th January.

Who is going to suffer in all of this? Clearly, the African himself is going to suffer. As many noble Lords have pointed out, there is going to be considerable local unemployment. When the farms are taken away and resettled there will be a permanent addition to the unemployment roll of something like 88,000 people who are earning wages at the moment.

But that is not the end of the story. In addition there is a large amount of fringe benefits that the commercial farms pay for in the way of free transport, schools and education, help with hospital facilities, and roads. All of that will immediately cease. That will not be good for the local economies, particularly in rural areas.

One of the reasons that President Mugabe has given for this new or revised attack on the white farmers—and when senior leaders find themselves in difficulties they often turn to a minority as a whipping boy—is that the whites have taken the land from the blacks. If one goes back 100 years it is estimated that there were only 250,000 blacks in Zimbabwe. Most of the land which is now subject to the commercial farms was virgin bush. If anyone should get that land back it is the bushmen who were pushed out by the tribes from the north and the Zulus from the south a little earlier. They were the people who originally belonged to Zimbabwe.

The white farmers will also suffer. For many it is their only livelihood and only means of existence which they have either bought or had handed down. They have no other form of income except for farming. But they are facing quite a serious problem because, as I understand it, the compensation that has been promised will not be paid in respect of any improvements after the date of the listing. So what is the point of any farmer spending more on his farm and security and trying to improve and upgrade his farm if there is to be no compensation? As my noble friend Lord Plunket said, at the moment it is only a listing and not a designation. So we have a crisis of limbo among the farming community who do not know where they stand and who are not buying equipment that is needed. As a result, businesses are suffering, as my noble friend Lord Brabazon said. The whole agricultural industry is taking a breather at the present time.

It is more than that because the manufacturing industries in Zimbabwe, which also bring in foreign currency, depend very much on local agricultural produce. But if that is going to decline—it has done so where resettlement has taken place—then that, too, will suffer and there will be a lack of foreign currency coming into the country. That cannot be good for those in the country or for the country itself.

I turn briefly to the wildlife. For them, resettlement poses dangers as it has wherever it has occurred throughout the world on such a scale. If Model A, the current scheme, is used, every five hectares will be given to someone and the wildlife will suffer. I shall consider the plight of just one animal that has been brought back from the brink of extinction in Zimbabwe. I refer to the black rhino. At the moment, there are 324 black rhinos in Zimbabwe, half in national parks and half in private conservancies. Most of the farms in these private conservancies are on the listing, so the black rhino's future is again under threat. What a detrimental state of affairs! I am sure that President Mugabe would not want to leave that as his legacy. I am sure that he would want to take the opportunity in the name of conservation alone—if for no other reason—to rescind his current instructions on this matter and to negotiate with the IMF and the EU, of which Britain is president for the next six months. We therefore have a perfect opportunity to point out not only the fatal flaws in the policy, but also the potential, and the willingness of all of us to try to help that country in its land reform and to give further aid to try to alleviate the poverty which is only getting worse at the moment.

10.35 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Vivian on raising this important question. As he said, there is a strong case for land reform in Zimbabwe. Half the country's arable acreage is owned by 4,500 whites and the need to provide land for the landless has been central to the Zimbabwean Government's efforts to raise the standard of living of those in overcrowded, overstocked and overused communal areas.

The Zimbabwean Government's support policies have been successful in that the small-scale farmer has moved from virtual subsistence and independence to the current position where his or her maize, cotton and groundnut output accounts for over 70 per cent. of national output. That is why Britain has spent £30 million since 1980 to help Zimbabwean families to buy land.

It is vital that the British Government and the international community continue to aid Zimbabwe in supporting land reform as part of the partnership to eradicate poverty. However, it would not help the poor if land was acquired in a way which undermined agriculture or foreign investors' confidence. Clearly, the process of land redistribution must be carried out in a carefully planned, open and orderly fashion with a land register, consultation and fair compensation.

I fully supported the Written Answer given last week by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in which he stated that the land acquisition must proceed in accordance with Zimbabwe's laws, its constitution and international obligations. Zimbabwe's 1992 Land Acquisition Act requires the government to pay compensation and provides access to the courts if the amount of compensation is disputed. It follows that any programme which Britain might support would need to be phased over time and should include support from other donors. Failure to carry out undertakings to donors will make further funding for Zimbabwe almost impossible. The IMF abandoned the country because promises made for loans were not met.

I discussed this programme at some length this morning with Zimbabwe's High Commissioner. He confirmed that the land acquisition programme will go ahead "openly and transparently", but fair price compensation for displaced farmers would depend on discussions with the EU and the World Bank. He said that land would be passed on only to those who have an agricultural background, and no ministers or war veterans without this experience would benefit.

As the Zimbabwean Government have no funds for this exercise, they are looking to the international community to finance the project. As the noble Lord, Lord Acton said, I understand that a conference with EU governments will take place soon to discuss the land acquisition programme.

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.

Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government confirm that any aid package would be dependent on agricultural production not being hindered?

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?

10.42 p.m.

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 turned down by the Government of Zimbabwe on 17th December 1996? Secondly, when the Prime Minister had discussions with President Mugabe at the Commonwealth Conference did he reaffirm that Britain's stand is only to provide grant money if, where farms are acquired, full respect is shown for the owners' rights and the land is not seized?

10.45 p.m.

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 hoes 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 ourselves with the way that the whole country is run. If the country is rotten it does not matter how well an individual project is run because the government always have the ability to siphon off money in different ways and misdirect it into other parts of the economy. Therefore, the way in which the whole country and a particular project is run must concern us.

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.

10.50 p.m.

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 promised to help, and did so. I would remind the noble Baroness that Britain provided almost £40 million in a combination of project aid and programme aid for land purchase and resettlement in Zimbabwe. Britain offered more assistance in 1989 and again in 1996. Those offers were not taken up. However, we remain willing to provide further assistance.

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 CFU and with the other farmers' organisations and with the financial and other qualified bodies to produce the land reform programme which would command the widespread confidence of those within Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe's many friends outside.

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.

I am heartened by the words of many noble Lords tonight, but in particular the words of the noble Lord, Lord Plunket, who, after all, has vivid and current experiences of life in Zimbabwe. We hope, as he does, that President Mugabe will act quickly and decisively to solve these problems and address out concerns and those of the Zimbabwean people. And we hope that, in so doing, he will again be able to end this present crisis and lead his country to the increased prosperity for which I am sure all your Lordships hope.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, in her very helpful reply she mentioned a number of factors that the Government would bear in mind. Will she also bring to the attention of the Zimbabwean authorities the point which I raised about the conservation of animals, because that will be critical in relation to any resettlement programme?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lord, I believe, when the noble Earl reads what I said in Hansard, he will find that I made a reference to the importance of land and conservation in my address but, if that was not clear to the noble Earl, then I give him that undertaking now. Of course it is a matter of importance.

House adjourned at three minutes past eleven o'clock.