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Central And Eastern Europe: Land Reform

Volume 621: debated on Monday 29 January 2001

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2.55 p.m.

How they intend to promote land reform in the transition economies of central and eastern Europe, in the context of their White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor.

My Lords, we are supporting land reform in several transition countries in collaboration with the World Bank and other donors. The purpose of this work is to help poor rural people to secure the land rights which underpin their livelihoods. We shall continue this work and support access of poor people to global markets through promoting efficient and sustainable land use.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive reply. I declare an unpaid interest as a patron of the Terre Initiative which is a non-profit-making organisation that seeks to encourage land reform and property ownership in the transition economies of eastern and central Europe. Is my noble friend aware that paragraphs 90 to 96 of the White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor contain what many believe is the first public acceptance by the Government that the acquisition of land rights is part of the battle against world poverty? Does my noble friend accept that, unless the European Union stops regarding land reform purely as a country-specific issue and provides some funding for applicant countries with transition economies on a broad cross-sector basis, the task of extending property rights in those countries will be made immeasurably harder?

My Lords, sustainable rural development has been a key part of the programme of the Department for International Development for a number of years. We believe that ultimately responsibility for land tenure and administration lies with national states. However, we support efforts within states to improve access to, and security of, land rights. The European Union deals with applicant country accession on an individual basis.

My Lords, this is a Question about the new democracies of eastern and central Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is absolutely right to emphasise the immense importance of land registration and restitution to enable those countries to get back on the tracks. Does the noble Baroness agree that expenditure under the PHARE programme is running at about 67 million euros but its effect has been evaluated as poor or at best acceptable? It has generated a good deal of criticism and is not really doing the job. I am sure that the attentions of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will improve matters. However, at the moment it does not appear to be a very successful EU aid programme. Does the Minister agree that this is yet one more example of an area where, although there must be EU co-ordination, the actual administration would be far better left in national hands to be dealt with by people who really know about land reform, land transition and land registration there? Does the noble Baroness agree that, as in many other areas of EU aid policy, it would be very much better if these matters were restored to national hands so as to be more effective and help democracy on its way?

My Lords, we have had an ongoing debate in this House on a number of these issues, and criticisms have been made of the EU aid programme. I believe that I have made it clear in answering questions about the EU aid programme that we have worked tirelessly with the EU to bring about reforms to make the EU aid programme more effective, because we believe that the leverage we can achieve by working through the EU in a co-ordinated way is much greater than could be achieved by individual member states working in isolation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of the European Union applicant countries find that one of the difficulties they face in the transition is dealing with too many competing national aid programmes and that many of us therefore think that the PHARE programme has been rather helpful? However, does she accept that, in general, there is a substantial difference between land reform and aid for transition in general in the applicant countries of central and eastern Europe and in the former countries of the Soviet Union, where EU programmes have not only been less effective, but where the whole problem of land tenure and land reform is a great deal more complex and subject to political corruption?

My Lords, it is important that there are effective and efficient government systems which work to benefit poor people. We see the land reform process as part of that. It is important that the transfer of land ownership in the region is done fairly and transparently. For example, we are helping farmers to protect their constitutional rights to land and property by providing access to advice and resources. I agree with the noble Lord that some national governments find it difficult to negotiate with individual donor countries. The EU has put together a number of programmes to support accession countries. We believe it is important that those programmes are co-ordinated. We shall continue to do all we can to ensure that those programmes are efficient and effective.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that the White Paper referred to in the Question very cogently spells out the enormous benefits that globalisation confers on the world economy as a whole, and, indeed, on the poorer countries in particular if they take advantage of it. Particularly in a week when the Davos international economic forum has ridiculous security arrangements because of an ill-intentioned coalition of interests against globalisation, why has there been no senior ministerial speech proclaiming the benefits of globalisation and following up the excellent White Paper?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development made a major speech on globalisation when she visited India 10 days ago. She is due to make another speech in New York on globalisation later this week. In the run-up to the publication of the White Paper, there have been a number of ministerial speeches on globalisation. They will continue because we believe that we are taking a lead with our contribution in terms of thinking through some quite complex and complicated arguments about the nature of globalisation and about the ways in which we can use globalisation to benefit the poor of the world.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that land reform in central and eastern Europe has encouraged people to buy their flats and houses, and that, as many of those properties are in extremely poor condition, people are ill advised to buy them as they may be taking on huge liabilities for the future? Therefore, does she agree that in any move towards land reform there should be prudent advice about the advisability of people buying their own properties?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that part of our objective in central and eastern Europe is to support the process of transition in such a way that its benefits are sustainable and in a way which spreads those benefits to all levels of society. Therefore, it is important that in our advice we ensure that the needs of individuals are taken into account and that, in so doing, we work across a range of issues, including not only the broader aspects of land reform but also land registration. That is an area which is being considered through the Lord Chancellor's Department.