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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

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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

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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

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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.

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