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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling these

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amendments this evening. The Government's agenda for local government is founded on a desire to see open, responsive, democratic and effective local authorities. An important part of achieving this vision is the ability of local authorities to experiment under this Bill with structures which give them both more streamlined decision-making arrangements and greater public scrutiny of the resulting policies and decisions. Amendments Nos. 48 and 53 are crucial to the openness of authorities experimenting under this Bill and the Government therefore welcome and support them. I urge noble Lords to do likewise.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling Amendment No. 54. It would clearly be a nonsense to force local government elections normally held on the same day to be held either separately in the same place or to shift one of them to a different date. The former could cause difficulties for polling in many areas and the latter could significantly affect turnout in the election which was moved to a different date. It therefore clearly makes sense to combine these elections, and the Government support this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said Amendments Nos. 49, 50, 51, 52 and 55 are merely technical and are tabled for the sake of clarity and consistency. The Government are happy to support these amendments.

On Question, amendment agree to.

Lord Hunt of Tanworth moved Amendments Nos. 49 to 55:

Page 16, line 44, leave out ("that individual") and insert ("he").
Page 17, line 6, leave out ("that individual") and insert ("he").
Page 17, line 39, at end insert--
("(12) In subsection (10) (section shall not authorise local authority to arrange for discharge by any committee, sub-committee or local authority of any functions required to be discharged by specified committee) after "discharge by any" there shall be inserted "elected mayor".
(13) In subsection (10) before "committee, sub-committee" there shall be inserted "ordinary member".").
Page 18, line 16, at end insert--
("(c) after the definition of "open space" there shall be inserted--
""ordinary member" has the meaning given by section 1 of the Local Government (Experimental Arrangements) Act 1998;".").
Page 19, line 5, after ("above") insert ("or section 4 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970").
Page 19, line 7, at end insert--
("Section 36 of the Representation of the People Act 1983
.--(1) Section 36 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (local elections in England and Wales) shall be amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3AC) there shall be inserted--
"(3AD) Where the polls at--
(a) the ordinary election of councillors for any electoral area falling within paragraph (b) of the definition of "electoral area" in section 203(1) below, or an election to fill a casual vacancy occurring in the office of such a councillor, and
(b) the ordinary election of an elected mayor for any electoral area falling within paragraph (a) of that definition, or an election to fill a casual vacancy occurring in the office of such an elected mayor,

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are to be taken on the same day and the elections are for related electoral areas, the polls at those elections shall be taken together."").
Page 19, line 22, leave out ("after the definition of "local government election" there shall be inserted") and insert ("the following definition shall be inserted at the appropriate place").

The noble Lord said: As the remaining amendments are technical and have already been explained, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 49 to 55 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Zimbabwe: Land Acquisition Policy

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

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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

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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.

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