HL Deb 22 February 1979 vol 398 cc1916-9

11.18 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there have ever been genuinely free multi-Party elections in any country in the world after that country has been taken over by a Marxist or Communist group or administration.


My Lords, there have been cases where Communist Parties have participated in Government and where free elections were subsequently held. But in none of these cases did the Communist Party control the Government. Genuinely free elections have never been held in any country where a Communist or Marxist Party has achieved full power.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Can he say whether Her Majesty's Government still believe that it is essential that after independence Rhodesia should have regular elections, or even one man, one vote once, as is normally the case? If so, can he explain why the Government insist that the Marxist terrorists must be so closely involved in view of their record and the obvious consequences?


My Lords, it is certainly our central aim to break with the past and to institute in Rhodesia a truly democratic system. We look to the future in Rhodesia—or Zimbabwe, as it may be known—as one in which the will of the majority will prevail. For that reason we are working through the Anglo-American proposals to get an all-Party conference which in due course will set up a constitution which will do precisely what the noble Lord advocates.


My Lords, is not this problem a little more general? Can my noble friend the Minister tell me of any instance anywhere in which a post-colonial independence Government has lost an election? Is not that the point being made by the opposition in St. Lucia at the moment?


My Lords, there is no doubt that my noble friend would like it to be the exclusive point. However, it is necessary to relate what happens in one category of country to what happens in others. I refuse to apply a general political principle simply to one type of country. In any case, my noble friend knows very well that there are instances, splendid instances, in the post-British colonial period, if I may put it like that, when countries which were not familiar with democratic processes have made excellent progress towards, and indeed have achieved, democratic processes. If I only refer to Malaysia, it is an excellent example of this.


My Lords, would the noble Lord answer my question? Has any Government ever lost an election?


Yes, my Lords, indeed. The major example of post-colonial development is surely the Indian Union. I seem to recall that from time to time the Indian Government has lost an election.


My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to define what is meant by "genuinely free"? So as not to arouse passions in the immediate present, would he take his mind back to three historical examples. Would he have said that the attempt by the Tory Party to exploit the forged Zinoviev Letter through the medium of its Press, or the Savings Bank scare in 1931, or the attempt by Mr. Churchill to do the same thing over the Gestapo, were attempts to maintain genuinely free elections or not?


My Lords, genuinely free, of course, is as we in this country—and we have a right to apply our principles in this matter—understand genuinely free elections to be. We know what they are, and we apply this commonsense principle to what happens in other countries and, without unduly interfering I hope, give good advice. As to my noble friend's always interesting historical excursions, I am not here either to explain to him or to defend to him the past, present, and future vagaries of the Conservative Party.


My Lords, on the subject of the post-colonial glories of the British Commonwealth, would the noble Lord not agree that it is already a hopeful advance that under the internal settlement in Rhodesia regular elections at not less than five-year intervals are proposed?


My Lords, I am sure that this is an advance—a little late and perhaps too little. But I have never from this Box condemned any movement forward by anybody in Rhodesia towards what we all want to see in that country. However, the position is surely that the elections as proposed to be held in April, and the constitution which is presaged by them, are woefully inadequate for a permanent, equitable and lasting solution for that country.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, when he uses the phrase "we understand", he may be quite correct, but so far as Rhodesia is concerned our apparent reluctance to give some support to the internal agreement—which is a big step forward—is not understood in Africa? It looks as though we are giving sympathetic support to the guerrilla parties, who are Marxist and who are dictatorial in their outlook; we understand, but the countries that can be influenced by our reactions do not understand to the same extent.


My Lords, I am not sure that I follow the noble Lord. I am quite sure that, if we took any other attitude to what is happening now in Rhodesia, and is proposed for it constitutionally, African opinion as a whole would rise in protest against any such attitude. When the noble Lord refers to African opinion, it is not just a section of African opinion about which he should be thinking but the great mass of African opinion as represented, for instance, in the Organisation of African Unity.


My Lords, I think we are running rather wide of the original Question. The next Question is really about Rhodesia; perhaps we could go on to that one.