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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

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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 3lst 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

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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 be 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.

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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.

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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.

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