HL Deb 16 October 2002 vol 639 cc854-7

2.56 p.m.

Lord Carrington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are prepared to use the money, which under the Lancaster House agreement was to have compensated Zimbabwean farmers who sold their farms on a willing buyer-seller basis, to support those who have now been evicted without compensation and have lost all their possessions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the Lancaster House agreement did not establish a specific fund to support land reform in Zimbabwe, nor did it commit the United Kingdom to pay compensation to dispossessed farmers. The UK Government have honoured the commitments they made. Those were to encourage international donors to help fund land redistribution; to provide technical assistance for resettlement schemes; and to provide aid for agricultural development projects and infrastructure.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, to use the time-honoured phrase, I am grateful to the noble Baroness—but only fairly grateful—for that disappointing reply. Under the Lancaster House agreement, it was envisaged that we would help the Zimbabwe Government and the farmers on a willing buyer-to-seller relationship. Does the Minister agree that in the present circumstances the Government are not depriving the Zimbabwe Government of anything, but are depriving the farmers of proper compensation?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord chaired the Lancaster House conference, so he will know the detail that was agreed at that time. We rallied donors to support the new Zimbabwe at independence and we were instrumental in setting up the Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development in 1981. At that conference, more than £630 million of aid was pledged. The first phase of land reform in the 1980s, which was partially funded by the United Kingdom, successfully resettled around 70,000 landless people on more than 2 million hectares of land.

The British contribution in terms of aid to Zimbabwe now stands at some half billion pounds in support since independence. Furthermore, £47 million of that was specifically targeted for land reform and approximately £100 million was budgetary support which could have been used for land reform.

I agree with the noble Lord about the need for further land reform. We want to see further reform, but we want to see a process that is transparent and meets the rule of law.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have many close relations who have lost their homes and their farms in Zimbabwe? Is she aware that my relations and other commercial farmers are dreadfully concerned about the future of the 350,000 farm workers and their 1¾ million dependants who now face being homeless and jobless and who will face hunger and even starvation? Will the Government bear the farm workers in mind and reassess the amount of humanitarian aid Britain gives to Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, before I answer my noble friend's question, I should like, on behalf of the whole House, to extend our deepest condolences at Sir Garfield Todd's recent passing. Sir Garfield was a tireless campaigner against minority rule in what was then Rhodesia and a principled opponent of the tyranny now affecting the Zimbabwe that he worked so hard to help to build.

My noble friend Lord Acton is right in saying that we need to be concerned about the farm workers—many of whom are Zimbabwean but have not been able to claim Zimbabwean nationality—and their nearly 2 million dependants. The famine in Zimbabwe means that their situation will become even worse. We have pledged £32 million in humanitarian support, but we shall of course reassess that depending on the information we receive from the World Food Programme. My noble friend is right. The situation of those farm workers needs to be at the front of our minds.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is not my noble friend Lord Carrington entirely right, as one would expect? Did not the original independence constitution for Zimbabwe recognise that under-utilised land could be compulsorily purchased provided that adequate compensation was paid? That may have been under a previous government, but given that Zimbabwe is now under an illegitimate regime, full of atrocities, how can the present Government just wash their hands of that obligation?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, may wish to go back and look again at the Lancaster House agreement. The willing buyer, willing seller agreement covered the first 10 years, and the British government made very specific commitments. I have outlined to the House the amount of money raised at the 1981 donors' conference and the amount that successive British governments have given to the Government of Zimbabwe in bilateral support, some of which was in the form of budgetary aid that could have been used for land reform. What we have to remember is that we are dealing in Zimbabwe with a regime that is ruthless and does not care what happens to its own people. This is not about land, but about the breakdown of the rule of law and a regime that wants to stay in power whatever.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, is it not—

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Hughes is first.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, is it not the case that if we followed the line proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, we would in fact be giving comfort to President Mugabe? President Mugabe's argument is precisely that he does not care about the law or compensation, responsibility for which he feels sure rests with the British Government. If we go down that line, it will become more difficult to reach reasonable solutions entailing proper land reform, proper compensation and proper land transfer.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. I have said many times in this House that we will not support a fast-track land reform process that breaks all the rules, which is what is going on at the moment. We said that we would support a transparent land reform process within the rule of law, but we have yet to see that in terms of fast-track land reform in Zimbabwe. The United Nations Development Programme has said exactly the same.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we on these Benches agree strongly that the rights of all Zimbabwe citizens—not simply whites or landowners versus those who work on the farms—need to be considered by the Government? Can the Minister tell us how many current Zimbabwe residents or citizens have the right of entry into this country and whether we expect a surge of refugees from Zimbabwe if the situation continues to deteriorate? How will the Government differentiate between those with the right of entry and others who have suffered very badly from the current political situation in that country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is right. I agree that we need to be concerned about the rights of all Zimbabweans. Some 26,000 British citizens are registered with our High Commission in Harare, but we think that there are 40,000 British citizens there. I would have to look at the figures again to see whether there are additional numbers who have a right of entry but who do not carry a British passport. We are constantly examining and thinking through the implications of the current situation in Zimbabwe, and I am in constant discussion with my colleagues across government departments and in international organisations about a potential influx were the situation to become much worse.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I declare an interest. I have cousins in Zimbabwe who have lost their farm. May I remind the House that there are white Zimbabwe citizens as well as black ones, and that if we are to see the situation under Mugabe's rule righted eventually we are going to have to reconstitute in some way the commercial ability of the country to earn money? Many white farmers would gladly stay—they want to stay because it is their country—to help to achieve that. In doing that, they would be providing precisely the employment for the black workers that they provided before. Those people have lost everything. I remind the House that, under ZANU-PF, nothing is being done for them. If we were to compensate those farmers, it would be an immensely sensible investment in the human future of the country.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I think that the whole House is aware of the havoc wreaked by the Mugabe regime through its economic mismanagement.