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24 Mar 2010 : Column 105WH—continued

The inclusive Government who grew out of the global political agreement incorporate members of the Movement for Democratic Change as well as of ZANU-PF, the long-term ruling party, but that Government are clearly fragile and under pressure. There have been some real achievements-most notably, of course, the stabilisation of the economy and the Finance Minister's decision to dollarise the economy. That led to two immediate advantages: first, it stopped inflation in its tracks, and secondly it stopped the Zimbabwean central bank from printing money to give to the party in power or senior people in the ruling regime; that was what had destroyed
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the value of the Zimbabwean dollar. The inclusive Government are rebuilding the capacity of the civil service to deliver basic services to the people, but they have a long way to go.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): My hon. Friend referred to the stabilisation of the economy. Would he at this point join me in noting the serious incident that took place yesterday? Last night, the Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, was involved in a serious car crash on a road just outside Harare. We understand that he is currently under observation in hospital, that his condition is stable and that he is expected to make a full recovery. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to join me and I am sure other hon. Members in wishing him well for a speedy recovery, given how important he has been in helping to stabilise Zimbabwe's economy?

Hugh Bayley: Yes, I will. I know that every hon. Member in this Chamber would also wish to join the Minister in sending those greetings. I hope that it is not just a rhetorical flourish; I hope that our ambassador in Harare will convey the greetings of this House and send our best wishes to Tendai Biti. He is an absolutely pivotal figure and is extremely bright. He is, of course, the architect of the finance reforms that stopped the runaway inflation, and he will play a vital-pivotal-part in Zimbabwe's economic recovery. His good health and speedy return to office is extremely important not only to the politics of Zimbabwe, but to the people of Zimbabwe. I worry when I hear about car crashes in Zimbabwe, because the Prime Minister there lost his wife in a car crash. Although we know that the roads are much more dangerous in Africa, that incident shows how fragile the inclusive Government are.

I shall briefly refer to the four recommendations in the report and say a word or two about the global political agreement. We came to four principal conclusions. First, when we in the UK consider land reform, we must recognise that it is a highly charged political issue. At the time of independence, the settler farmers made up 1 per cent. of the population, but they owned 70 per cent. of the land. Most of the farmers in the 1980s had bought their land from earlier generations of white settlers, but the land title that the first settlers obtained at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was disputable to say the least.

When the Committee was in Zimbabwe, I talked to a white archivist who had just retired from the civil service. He was a fourth generation Rhodesian, as he called himself, and his family were farmers. He said that when his family arrived at the turn of the 19th century and staked out their claim to land, they told the local people that they had a choice: work for them or get off the land. One has to understand why there is an African sense of grievance. That is not to say that the process of land invasions is a wise, sensible or justifiable response to that grievance, but to ignore the fact that there is a very real grievance is to put off finding a solution to the problem.

Our second recommendation was that the UK needs to combat more actively the "promises betrayed" myth in Africa and that we need to assert that we are one of Africa's best development partners. Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has doubled-possibly even trebled-
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our aid to Africa. We have done more than that in Zimbabwe; we have increased it fivefold. We must continue to support Zimbabwe's development both politically and economically.

Thirdly, we made comments about the dual land tenure system. I was pleased to note in the Government's response that they share our view that real land title needs to be provided to all Zimbabweans who are farming. However, the Government point out rightly that the Zimbabwean people and their Parliament must make that decision-it is not a decision that we can make here.

Fourthly, we recommend that the UK should re-engage on the issue of land reform-including on making a financial commitment to land reform-once the quality of governance is such that we are assured that the money spent will go to provide land to the landless poor, not to elite groups. We make the point that the UK cannot do that alone, partly because of a poisoned post-colonial relationship and partly because it is a responsibility for the wider donor community. That matter ought to be dealt with on a multilateral basis and is possibly something that could flow from the "Domesday Book" work on defining land title, which is being carried out-funded-by the World Bank's multi-donor trust fund.

Finally, I want briefly to read some extracts from the global political agreement, which was made between ZANU-PF, the largest party in Government since independence, and the major Opposition parties-the two factions of the MDC. Article V of the global political agreement recognises

and accepts the desirability of comprehensive land reform in Zimbabwe.

The agreement states that there was a difference of opinion between the MDC and ZANU-PF. It says:

the parties accept

The parties agree on a number of other issues, but I want to set out just four of the points that they agreed. First, they agreed to

As I said, that is under way and it is being funded by donors, including this country. Secondly, they agreed to

When the political conditions allow, I would want our Government to support that and to take a lead in constructing a multi-donor fund. Thirdly, they agreed to

DFID is already working on that, and I mentioned the seed and fertiliser distribution programmes.

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However, the parties to the global political agreement, which included the MDC, also

and I do not accept that. That statement was made in a political agreement between Zimbabweans. It is not for the UK to compensate those whose land was taken by force; the responsibility to pay compensation must lie with those who forcibly took the land. After all, it is 45 years since Britain ruled what is now Zimbabwe, in which time we have seen 15 years of an illegal settler regime, which was in revolt against the British Crown, followed by 30 years of independence. It is those who have broken the law in Zimbabwe in recent years who have a responsibility.

The all-party group and I strongly make the case that the UK should be a generous aid donor and, in particular, that it should set up a fund to help pay for land reform. However, we should do that because we are good development partners, not because of an historical debt, particularly when actions have taken place decades after the colonial period. We should work with the Government of Zimbabwe not just to distribute seeds and fertiliser, but to put together a range of policies on land title and other matters to help Zimbabwe recover the agricultural productivity that it once had and to become the bread basket of Africa once again.

Several hon. Members rose-

Mrs. Janet Dean (in the Chair): Order. I advise Members that I intend to begin calling the Front-Bench spokesmen at 3.30 pm.

3.12 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on his debate. Today, I have spoken to members of Tendai Biti's family, both here and in Zimbabwe, and he is recovering. He has met many of the Members here, including the members of the all-party group on Zimbabwe, and he will be very grateful and pleased that we are sending him our best wishes.

Land is an emotive issue in Zimbabwe; having travelled hundreds of miles through Zimbabwe over the past 10 years, and coming as I do from a farming background, I feel pretty emotional about it myself. My emotion arises, first, from seeing thousands and thousands of acres of good agricultural land revert to scrubland. It also arises from seeing thousands and thousands of skilled agricultural workers consigned to enforced idleness, joblessness and the prospect of having no future. It is outrageous that that should be happening in a world short of food and on a continent where hunger is never far away.

What makes me very angry indeed, however, is the thought that my constituents just down the road in Lambeth, Vauxhall and Brixton are paying their taxes so that food can be shipped halfway around the world to feed people in a country that, until very recently, exported food. Indeed, it could still be exporting food but for the disastrous actions of Mugabe and his ruling clique, which has sacrificed the prosperity and well-being of an entire nation to their greed for power and plunder.

It is really important to set the discussion of land in Zimbabwe in that context, because there is a tendency
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among many people and many of the relief agencies to tiptoe around the real issues. Some people still often blame the food shortages on bad harvests and bad weather, when the truth is that the chaotic fast-track land reform process has resulted in whole swathes of land being taken out of production. Earlier this month, the Red Cross announced that more than 2 million Zimbabweans are urgently in need of food assistance, before going on to blame the shortages on drought in some areas and excessive rain in others.

That statement shows a real drought of honesty over the real reasons why Zimbabweans are hungry. While ZANU Ministers and the people at the top of the armed forces sit in the farm houses that they have grabbed, the land lies uncultivated and unproductive, and those who should be working it are displaced and destitute. That is shocking and scandalous. Whatever the weasel words from Mugabe and his apologists about righting the supposed wrongs of colonialism, the people of Zimbabwe are now far worse off than they were in the 1980s.

It would be helpful if the Minister could assure us that DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will do all they can to make sure that NGOs delivering programmes funded by British taxpayers become in no way complicit in promoting the politicised misrepresentation of facts favoured by ZANU-PF. I realise that it is sometimes difficult and that organisations do not want to jeopardise their operations in the country by becoming overtly political, but if we are providing their funding, it is important they should not, for the sake of a quiet life, play along with sometimes distorted versions of events that denigrate the UK and gloss over the appalling record of Mugabe's Government.

Recently, the general secretary of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, Gertrude Hambira, came to speak to the all-party group on Zimbabwe about a report and a film produced by the union, which show the human rights violations suffered by farm workers as a result of the land reform process. She was in hiding until very recently because armed men forced their way into her home to abduct her. Only last month, the Central Intelligence Organisation-Zimbabwe's secret police, who are still operating in Zimbabwe despite the global political agreement-raided the union's offices looking for Gertrude, and she had to flee to South Africa for safety. Such things are still happening day in, day out to trade union leaders who tell the truth about land reform in Zimbabwe and who try to defend the rights of workers.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The hon. Lady mentions an important trade union leader who has fled to South Africa, but what about the hundreds of thousands-nay, millions-of Zimbabwe citizens, including those who have been driven off the land by the so-called war veterans, who were not even born when the war took place, who are causing unrest and social disorder in parts of South Africa, among other countries?

Kate Hoey: Of course. It is refreshing to see President Zuma engage much more with the issue. Indeed, shortly after he left this country-I am sure that his visit had something to do with this-he was literally followed by Zimbabweans wherever he went, and he has recently been in Zimbabwe. South Africa is suffering, too, because of the overspill from what is happening in Zimbabwe.

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For 20 years, as we know, Mugabe was not interested in land reform, which was not a priority. When he did move it to the top of his agenda, it was not because he suddenly wanted to right an historical wrong; his real aim was to cripple the trade union movement because of the looming political threat. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions broke its alliance with ZANU-PF, and Morgan Tsvangirai, who was then the ZCTU general secretary, went on to found the MDC. Farm workers were an obvious target for retribution because they made up the largest sector of unionised labour. What is even worse-this is often overlooked-is that there is a nasty whiff of xenophobia about taking things out on farm workers, many of whom are descended from Malawian migrants. That is a whole new issue, which needs to be looked at.

Some Members participating in the debate will have seen the moving film "Mugabe and the White African", which was released recently. The all-party group had a screening of the film, which members of the International Development Committee saw before their visit to Zimbabwe. The film follows the proceedings of the Southern African Development Community tribunal, leading up to its ruling in 2008 that the seizure of commercial farms was illegal. The tribunal decided that the amendment to the Zimbabwe constitution allowing the Government to seize white-owned farms without compensation violated international law.

It is particularly significant that the ruling should have been made by a tribunal set up by the SADC, the regional grouping of African nations. Needless to say, Mugabe promptly announced that he did not recognise the authority of the tribunal, even though his own Government had ratified the protocol establishing it. In February in South Africa the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the SADC decision could be enforced in South Africa and that certain assets of the Government of Zimbabwe could be seized, to provide compensation to dispossessed farmers.

The UK provides substantial support across the SADC region and DFID has helped with the strengthening of SADC institutions. It is futile to provide support for those much vaunted regional bodies if they can be disregarded as soon as they become inconvenient. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what discussions he has had with Governments in the region about making sure that ZANU-PF Ministers honour their international obligations, particularly those made to the country's SADC partners. That has a bearing on the cavalier way in which Mugabe still treats the global political agreement. He signed up to the agreement and was really only allowed to stay on in government because of it. The pressure came from South Africa. Yet SADC has seemed pretty impotent when it comes to exercising the guarantee that it gave to the MDC when it signed up-reluctantly, but in the interest of the country-that ZANU-PF would not be able to wriggle out of its obligations to observe the spirit and letter of the agreement.

If only Mugabe would reread what he said 30 years ago, in January 1980, when he arrived back from exile in Mozambique:

He has actually seized farms from black farmers and white farmers who bought their land legally long after
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colonialism finished. We must not allow the colonial issue to override everything, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of York said, it is a long time since this country was directly running Zimbabwe in any way.

Land is the key; it should be productive and should be used to grow crops to feed the people and to export. It should be used to provide employment and to generate the wealth needed to pay for local schools and community hospitals. Now at long last there are encouraging signs that Zimbabwe might be moving towards proper democracy. As those signs materialise into reality, I hope that we can enter into productive partnerships with forward-looking MDC Ministers in the Government of Zimbabwe, such as Elton Mangoma. There are really good people around, who know what needs to be done to get Zimbabwe moving.

I hope that the Minister will tell us more about DFID plans to encourage investment in enterprises related to agriculture. What can be done that will help to re-establish enterprises that will generate employment and foreign earnings? One of the realities is that many of the methods of modern agribusiness are not labour-intensive. There is a need to find ways in which value can be added to agricultural produce before it leaves Zimbabwe. That will not only boost employment; it will boost Zimbabwe's export earnings. It will help land to become again what it was for so long: the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy and the foundation of vibrant local communities. None of that can happen until Zimbabwe has genuinely free and fair elections, a new Government and a new President, elected on the basis of support for the rule of law and real democracy. That is what the House should work towards.

3.23 pm

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) speak about Zimbabwe. Her courage on the issue is known to many of us in the all-party group on Zimbabwe. The anger that she feels at what has happened to that wonderful country burns in her rhetoric, and it is a privilege to follow her.

This is a poignant moment for me to speak on the issue, because I have today been given information about two constituents, Adele and Bruce Moffatt, who escaped after what happened to them on their farm and came to live with their children in my constituency. They went back to Zimbabwe and in the past day or so have had a really horrendous experience. They were subjected to continuous beating for more than 90 minutes and were marched into the bush, where they were certain they were going to be murdered. They managed to talk their way out of it and escape. They are still trying to find out what has happened to others close to them, and it is a worrying time for many families in this country, and of course in Zimbabwe.

I pay tribute to the all-party group on Africa for the report. It was a very good piece of work. I played a very small part in it, because I attended one hearing, when Lord Carrington gave evidence. If I have half the marbles that he has at his age I shall be a very happy old man. He is a remarkable person and his recall of what must at times have been very confusing negotiations at Lancaster house was remarkable.

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