HL Deb 18 March 1980 vol 407 cc169-77

2.56 p.m.

Lord TREFGARNE rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 26th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Southern Rhodesia (Constitution of Zimbabwe) (Elections and Appointments) (Amendment) Order 1980, a copy of which was laid before the House on 26th February, be approved. I will not detain your Lordships for long in introducing this order. Its main purpose is to simplify the procedure for electing a President of Zimbabwe.

The independence constitution provides that the President shall be elected by an electoral college comprising the members of the Senate and the House of Assembly. In normal circumstances, the electoral college would be presided over by either the Speaker of the House of Assembly or the President of the Senate. However, in the pre-independence period, this would have necessitated prior meetings of either the House of Assembly or the Senate solely to elect a presiding officer. Neither body would meet for any other purpose before independence since the Governor has full legislative power while he remains in Rhodesia.

It was felt therefore that, rather than summon a special meeting of one or other of the bodies to go through what might have been a lengthy and possibly controversial process of electing a presiding officer before the election of a President, it would be simpler and more in keeping with the spirit of the interim period to allow the Governor to appoint a presiding officer for the electoral college only. The post is concerned purely with the technical arrangements for the election of the President. It will be for the House of Assembly and the Senate to make their own arrangements for the election of their presiding officers after independence.

I should tell your Lordships, in all honesty, that we were particularly anxious to simplify matters in this way at a time when we envisaged that the period between elections and independence would be very brief. However, as your Lordships may know, Mr. Mugabe has urged the Governor to stay on rather longer than we originally envisaged and, at his request, independence has been postponed until 18th April. No objection has been raised by Mr. Mugabe or any of the other parties to the simplified procedure for which this order provides. The Governor has indicated that he prefers these revised arrangements, notwithstanding the later date for independence. I am confident, therefore, that the House will be ready to agree to a proposal which is acceptable to the parties themselves.

The elections for the Senate are to be held tomorrow (19th March) and the election of a President-elect quite soon thereafter. The purpose for which this amending order was made will therefore, very shortly, have been served. In future Presidential elections, the normal provisions of the constitution will of course apply. The second purpose of the order is to ensure that no steps which the Governor thought it necessary to take to ensure that the elections for the House of Assembly were free and fair could be held to be in contravention of the provisions of the constitution.

As was widely reported, the Governor was seriously concerned at one stage of the election campaign by the level of political intimidation, which came from a number of quarters, and the threat which this posed to the holding of free and fair elections. For this reason, he took powers to impose limited penalties on any party whose activities were not consistent with the undertakings given at Lancaster House; and to suspend elections in certain areas if intimidation appeared to make it impossible for free elections to be held in them.

In the event, it was not necessary for the Governor to make any use of these powers after the amending order was made. The provision of them was intended to deal with a contingency which, thankfully, did not arise. The British Government, fortified by the opinions of nearly all the international observers, including those from your Lordships' House, accept the result of the election as representing the considered view of the Rhodesian people.

There is little more to be said. Apart from the remaining constitutional formalities, the main task of the final weeks of the Governor's administration will be to provide advice and support to Mr. Mugabe while he and his team of Ministers settle into their offices. The Government will be providing assistance and guidance in a number of fields where Mr. Mugabe has requested our help.

It might, however, be helpful if I were to list briefly the remaining Orders in Council which will be necessary to discharge the task of bringing Zimbabwe to independence. An order will be laid before Her Majesty tomorrow to make transitional provisions consequent upon the introduction of the independence constitution. This is standard practice when any new State is granted independence. A further order will be laid before Her Majesty at the same time, setting the date of independence as 18th April. Finally, a draft order will shortly be laid before Parliament, making amendments to the Zimbabwe Act and other United Kingdom laws consequent upon Zimbabwe's joining the Commonwealth.

The order before us today is among the last of the steps we shall take before Rhodesia joins the world community and the Commonwealth as the free and independent Zimbabwe. It is intended to facilitate that process, and I hope your Lordships will approve it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 26th February, be approved.—

(Lord Trefgarne.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to give an enthusiastic welcome to this order and to the manner in which the noble Lord the Minister presented it. It gives us all great pleasure to assist once more in the consensus of welcome to all that is happening in Zimbabwe in conformity with the practices of democracy and constitutionality.

This order facilitates two of the quite final steps towards the establishment of the new independent sovereign State of Zimbabwe in the world community and in the Commonwealth. While there may be occasions in the future when we shall, in a friendly way, consider the way things are going in the first few months of the history of the new State, this is not the time to extend the debate. The whole House is delighted that matters have gone the way they have. I am sure we all agree with this order, which makes regular and orderly the appointment of presiding officers for the House of Assembly and the Senate and also the appointment by due process of the President: these are indeed historic happenings.

I entirely agree also that the second purpose of the order deserves the welcome and support of the entire House, namely, in a somewhat retrospective way, to safeguard the position of the Governor, who needed powers to intervene if the elections, for one reason or another, did not prove to be as free and fair as this Parliament had enjoined that they should be. Happily, those powers were not necessary and it will be within the recollection of the House that, from this box on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I intimated that certain aspects of those powers, especially those relating to freedom of electoral activity, would best be honoured in the breach, that is by the Government, than in the observance. The fact that they were within the power of the Government we hopefully thought might be sufficient. I am delighted to hear from the lips of the Minister that that was indeed the position.

With those few words, extending a welcome as well as official approval for this order, I hope the House will not hold up this instrument any further. It is desired and needed by the new Prime Minister and his Government, and indeed it suits the convenience as well as the necessities of the moment in Rhodesia and also in this country.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, may I say just a few words on this order, as it arises from the elections and I was privileged to be one of the ten Members who went out to observe the elections over a period of three weeks. Your Lordships will not wish to have a travelogue from me, but I think it ought to be placed on record how we arrived at the statement which was made by the delegation before the actual voting took place.

During our visit we met six of the leaders of the parties, including Mr. Robert Mugabe, whom we met three times and who was consistent in his views on each of the three times we met him. We met all the officers and officials whom wewished to see. We talked on a number of occasions with the elections supervisor, Sir John Boynton. We met all his provincial election supervisors and quite a number of district election supervisors, who were also appointed by Sir John Boynton. We attended also the election commission, which was a useful instrument for enabling representatives of the parties to discuss various arrangements for the elections and to be satisfied about them, including the ordinance to which the noble Lord has referred.

Prior to the three days of polling we had opportunities to travel throughout the country into tribal trust lands, protected villages and townships, and we were freely able to talk to a very large number of the persons who would be voting. We also had the opportunity to attend a number of rallies and two assembly points: I shall not refer to them now as they do not refer to the actual elections observance.

During the three days of polling we were able to visit quite a number of polling stations throughout the country, to observe the procedures and to attend subsequently verification counts and the counts themselves. Your parliamentary delegation was the first to issue a statement, and that was issued deliberately as a unanimous view some days before the actual voting took place.

As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has mentioned, there was concern about certain incidents and the delegation themselves were concerned about them. Those developments provoked a spate of allega- tions and counter-allegations of intimidation and partiality, but it has to be remembered that these elections were taking place after a long and bitter war, which made it extremely difficult to apply the criteria of United Kingdom elections. Also, those elections were carried through in a state of martial law which was still in existence. Therefore the members of your delegation addressed themselves to the question as to whether or not the situation was such that it had become impossible for the elections to reflect the general wish of the people of Zimbabwe and, despite the various incidents to which I have referred, the delegation were unanimous in expressing their views on three particular points.

These points were: first, that the organisation and mechanics of the poll had been efficiently and fairly carried out; secondly, that the official literature, numerous broadcasts and other means had enabled the message about the secrecy of the poll to be well understood, and we were able to question quite a large number of people as to whether that point had gone home. Thirdly, the large provincial electoral and party list system minimised any possible effect of local incidents of intimidation. Therefore we did not use the phrase"free and fair elections ", which we thought had become rather a cliché We concluded that the election results would fairly reflect the general wish of the Zimbabwean electorate. Our statement was followed by a similar statement on behalf of the independent observers, who were appointed by the United Kingdom Government, by the British Commonwealth observers team and by numerous other representatives as well.

Also, the election commissioner, Sir John Boynton, in his report—all these reports were issued either before voting or, in the case of Sir John Boynton, after voting but before counting of the votes—concluded, notwithstanding the distortion of voting in certain areas, that in the Rhodesian context the overall result of the elections would broadly reflect the wishes of the people. It must be reported that the numbers of those who voted were 50 per cent. Up—that is, nearly 900,000 extra voters—on April, 1979, and that, despite this huge increase in votes, the number of spoiled papers fell from 66,000 to 53,000, which indicates how the procedure of the election had got across.

I—and I am certain that this will be endorsed by all members of the delegation —would wish to place on record our appreciation of the splendid work of Sir John Boynton, the election commissioner, and of the provincial and district supervisors with whom he worked and with whom we had many discussions. May I also say that the decision to bring in the 500 British policemen was, frankly, an imaginative brainwave. We spoke to many of these people out in the protected villages and elsewhere, and they were carrying on their duties in the calm and sensible way that we would expect the British"bobby"to do.

Finally, never before has an election been so much under the eyes of the world. There were the hundreds of pressmen and media men— the briefing conferences every evening were simply packed to capacity—and also the observers who, I believe, numbered something like 160. Never before have so many people roamed over a country looking at an election, and their views have all somewhat corresponded. The manner in which these elections were carried out, despite all the difficulties, is a great testimony to British administration and will have some considerable effect not only on the future of Zimbabwe, but, maybe, in other parts of Africa as well.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Underhill has said, particularly in regard to the excellent, imaginative and sympathetic manner in which the officers conducted this election right from early in January. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, introduced this order in a non-controversial way, and indeed it is a non-controversial order, so I do not propose to question anything in it. But may I take this opportunity of asking him two questions?

First, according to the order, and also according, to the noble Lord's introduction, neither the Assembly nor the Senate will meet before the date of independence. Could he explain to us what is the position of the Prime Minister—or the Prime Minister-elect, as I suppose one should call him—and the other Ministers in regard to their adminstrative and ministerial duties, between now and independence day? Secondly, noble Lords will recall that we on this side of the House pressed the Government very hard on two occasions when we were debating first, the Southern Rhodesia Act, and then, secondly, the Zimbabwe Act before the Christmas recess, to make them subject to Affirmative Resolutions. The Government resisted that pressure and, as I understand it—and I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—the Government now have power to grant independence to the new State of Zimbabwe simply by Order in Council, which could, in fact, be laid during the recess without ever coming back to the two Houses of our Parliament.

I suggest that, if that is so, the Government might very well offer a self-denying ordinance, because it would, I believe, be regarded not only in this country, but certainly in Africa and in other parts of the world, as a certain dereliction of our responsibilities if there were not an opportunity for both Houses of Parliament to debate the issue of independence before independence day. This has normally been done in the past, though not always.

There are many issues to be raised here and many lessons to be learned. It has always been the claim of British Governments of both parties that they had responsibility for Southern Rhodesia, then for Rhodesia and now for the granting of independence to Zimbabwe. So I humbly submit to the Government that it would be very well worth while if they were to arrange for debates to be held in both Houses before independence day, so that it can be seen that it is this Parliament which is granting independence to Zimbabwe.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged for the attitude of every noble Lord who has spoken with regard to this order. I think it is only the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, who has actually put points to me which I shall deal with. First, as to the position of Ministers-elect who are, as I said, now settling into their offices in Rhodesia, executive power in Rhodesia will remain in the hands of the Governor until the date of independence. But, of course, he will be working in the closest consultation with the Prime Minister-elect and the Ministers-elect between now and the date of independence, and the new Ministers will, of course, take office and take over executive power on the date of independence itself.

As for the question of a debate in one or both Houses before independence, we explored these matters very fully when the Zimbabwe Act, as it is now, went through Parliament just before Christmas. The executive act, the Parliamentary approval for the independence of Zimbabwe, was contained in that Act which your Lordships saw fit to approve, and the order to which referred will set only the date for independence. It will not affect the fact of independence on which, as I have said, Parliament has already expressed an opinion. It is clear—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, appreciated this—that Rhodesia is now poised to take its place in the world community. At the risk of sounding unduly smug, may I suggest to your Lordships that the people of Rhodesia, soon to be Zimbabwe, owe a debt to my noble friend Lord Carrington and to my noble friend Lord Soames, which they will not soon nor easily repay.


My Lords, may I put this point to the Minister? In this year of triumph over Rhodesia, I have just discovered that there was no delegate from this country to the Human Rights Committee. I must say that I would have given I do not know what to have been there on the day that Rhodesia's independence was declared. There was no British delegate.


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness would expect me to comment on that in this context. But I take note of what the noble Baroness has said.

On Question, Motion agreed to.