Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
The order is made under the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979, one of the purposes of which is, as hon. Members will recall, to enable a Governor to be appointed and elections to be arranged as essential steps in bringing Rhodesia to legal independence. In particular, section 2 of that Act provided that certain parts of the independence constitution should be brought into effect before independence so that elections could be held and the constitution could function effectively from the date of independence. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal informed the House at the time that it would be necessary to make certain modifications in the independence constitution in so far as it applied to the pre-independence period.
This order authorises the Governor to take the steps necessary to conduct elections and appoint a Prime Minister and other Ministers who can assume office on independence. Different parts of the order will be brought into effect by the Secretary of State as they are required.
Article 3 of the order authorises the Governor to make arrangements for elections to the House of Assembly and the Senate. The Governor has already taken several steps in this direction. Detailed ordinances have been enacted modifying the electoral law and thus providing for the functions and duties of the election commissioner and the election council. I shall arrange for copies of these ordinances to be placed in the Library of the House. The election commissioner took up his duties in mid-December and is supervising the preparations for the elections. Political parties wishing to take part in the elections have been required to register, and the nomination of candidates will take place on 21 January. Commonwealth observers will be going to Rhodesia to observe the elections towards the end of the month.
Will the hon. Gentleman say what arrangements, if any, have to be made or what consideration has been given concerning refugees being allowed to vote if they are not all returned to the country by the time the election takes place?
If I may, I shall come to that in a moment. I was talking about the Commonwealth observers. Arrangements will be made for them to go out and observe the elections towards the end of this month.
The Government will shortly be proposing, through the usual channels, arrangements for a small number of Members of all parties and both Houses to visit Rhodesia to observe the elections. Elections on the white roll will be held on 14 February. These elections take place separately from those on the common roll, largely for administrative convenience, since they are held for constituencies with a register of voters. The common roll elections will be held on 27 to 29 February on a party list system in eight electoral districts. The schedule to the order provides for the elections to be held on a list rather than a constituency basis. The schedule also modifies the constitution to remove residence qualifications for elections to the Senate and the House of Assembly and to ensure that any person deprived of his citizenship on grounds other than on grounds of fraudulent registration by the former Administration of Rhodesia should be entitled to vote.
Arrangements for elections to the Senate will be made immediately after the elections to the House of Assembly have been completed.
Article 4 of the order requires the Governor to appoint a Prime Minister, and, if the Prime Minister so advises, the Governor may also appoint other Ministers. In accordance with provisions of the constitution, the Governor will appoint as Prime Minister the person who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of Members of the House of Assembly.
Article 5 requires the Governor to make provision for voting for President-elect, who will assume office on independence day.
The remaining articles of the order will enable the Governor to set a date for the first meeting of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, which will be after independence. The only meetings to be held before independence will be limited to meetings to elect a presiding officer for each House.
Finally, the order brings into force those parts of the independence constitution which will be required to give effect to the other provisions of the order.
Before concluding my remarks, I should like to make a few general comments which form a background to the order. During questions in the House yesterday, a number of criticisms were made of the Governor's administration and of the Government's policies. I do not complain of that, but I think it important that the House should recognise the remarkable achievements of the Governor's administration in the space of only five weeks. Rhodesia has been returned to legality and sanctions have been lifted. A ceasefire has been established, the monitoring force deployed and some 21,000 members of the Patriotic Front forces have reported to assembly places, where their needs are being met by the monitoring force. The logistical task alone is enormous. The ceasefire commission is meeting regularly and good co-operation has been established between the respective military commanders. The Governor has made full use of the Patriotic Front's military commanders in dealing with threatening incidents and they have had considerable success in settling these. I would pay tribute also to the performance of the Rhodesian police, who have performed their role in very difficult circumstances with great skill.
On the political front, I have already described the arrangements.
Before leaving the question of guerrilla forces, perhaps the Minister will tell us what steps the Government propose to take in order to avoid incidents leading to conflicts as a result of which there are further casualties and bad feeling. What steps are provided to enable the members of the Patriotic Front who have been fighting but who have not gone to the agreed assembly points to go to them—or, at any rate, to give up their fighting stance—and to take part in the elections?
I know that the hon. Member has followed the Rhodesia story with great interest. He will know that there is a ceasefire commission as part of the machinery in Salisbury. Under the election commissioner there is an election council. In both respects, a forum is provided to which people from all sides can go who have complaints about incidents in local areas or about election procedures and their fairness. That is an essential part of the agreement reached at Lancaster House.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, for example, the ceasefire commission is meeting regularly—at least twice a week—and that its members, who are co-operating well together, obviously meet outside the context of those meetings and keep in touch daily. Naturally there are incidents—it would be surprising if there were not—but they are fully investigated.
Having answered that point, I have forgotten the hon. Gentleman's other question.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the completion of the ceasefire took place on 4 January. On the whole, there was a remarkable success. As I have already said, more than 21,000 Patriotic Front personnel have assembled. The Governor decided that after midnight on 4 January anyone still proclaiming to be a member of the Patriotic Front but who was not in an assembly point would be unlawful under the rules and regulations agreed at Lancaster House. However, if a Patriotic Front member then wishes to join an assembly camp—one of the assembly points—he need only make his wish known to the nearest local authority and arrangements will be made for him to proceed without his weapons to those camps.
A considerable number of Patriotic Front members have taken advantage of that offer. I hope the House will agree that the Governor has been very flexible in his interpretation of the Lancaster House agreement.
It is my impression, and perhaps that of the House, that on the whole, where there has been a breach of the ceasefire, the Governor has called upon the old security forces. However, the intention at Lancaster House was that the Patriotic Front forces would be used to monitor their own breaches and that the security forces would monitor theirs. In the incidents that have occurred, what has been the balance between those put down by security forces and those put down by the Patriotic Front?
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it was agreed at Lancaster House that both the Patriotic Front forces and the Rhodesian police would be at the disposal of the Governor, for him to use at his discretion in whatever circumstances. Of course, it is true that in the initial stages of the agreement the Patriotic Front forces assembled. In the process of assembly the Rhodesian security forces, as was agreed at Lancaster House, withdrew within the vicinity of their company locations. Since the Patriotic Front's forces were concentrating on assembling, in the initial stages it was naturally less likely that the Governor would be able to use these forces in a balanced fashion because they had not assembled.
It must be left to the Governor to decide how he uses the forces. It is his job to ensure—he is doing his utmost to do so—that he holds free and fair elections and that he interprets the rules of the Lancaster House agreement as they were agreed and signed on 21 December.
In recent days the Governor has used Patriotic Front force commanders and liaison officers to assist him in dealing with incidents and to go to certain spots to look at and investigate them. He is doing that on an increasing scale, and it is for him to determine. He has been given that term of reference.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) also raised the question of refugees and their return. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been asked to undertake the overall co-ordination of the return of about 250,000 refugees from the surrounding States of Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. The commission is getting on with that task, in co-operation with us, the civil servants in Salisbury, the International Committee of the Red Cross and various voluntary bodies to see that the return of the refugees takes place as rapidly as possible. As I have indicated, it should be possible to start the process of returning refugees on a substantial basis fairly rapidly in the next few days.
One of the anxieties expressed in the previous discussion on Rhodesia in the House was that South African troops should withdraw completely, and we were given a categorical assurance that that would take place. However, in reply to my question yesterday, the Lord Privy Seal said:
I cannot assure the House that all South African troops have been withdrawn because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Governor has reviewed the situation and has decided that a small contingent of South African forces is required to guard the Beit bridge."—[Official Report, 16 January 1980; Vol. 976. c. 1612.]
If it is a small force, surely we could use our forces instead. Why has the agreement reached at Lancaster House been breached? This is causing concern among the front-line Presidents and others who are concerned to move forward to a successful election.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal gave a full answer yesterday, but I shall reiterate the position if it will help the House. It is true that in December we said that there would be no external intervention, and we stick to that, but let me make it absolutely clear what the Governor has announced.
Half the Beit bridge belongs to South Africa, and it is in an area where there have recently been serious incidents. The Governor therefore accepts that there should be a small South African contingent there whose sole task will have nothing to do with external intervention but will concern the defence of a bridge that facilitates supplies for Rhodesia, Zambia and Zaire and is important to the surrounding countries. My right hon. Friend also told the House that monitors have been allocated to the area to make sure that the forces that are there to look after the security of the bridge fulfil that task and that task alone.
There was a full exchange yesterday, and the more one thinks about it the more important it is to get the issue into perspective. No one with any imagination could imagine that a small South African contingent, alongside other forces and with monitors there, will intimidate voters in Rhodesia. The Governor's main task is to ensure that there are free and fair elections, and he has made it absolutely plain that the decision which he announced 10 days to a fortnight ago will be kept constantly under review—and I reiterate that the Governor has the issue constantly under review.
Does not the Governor's decision concede that South Africa has an interest to be inside Rhodesia? The South Africans have said that they will not tolerate a Patriotic Front Government in Salisbury, elected or otherwise. What assurances are there that the South Africans will not use that bridgehead into Rhodesia to drive into Salisbury after the elections? It is the most provocative issue that has arisen and could sour everything that has so far happened, of which the hon. Gentleman claims to be justly proud.
I must ask the House to keep the matter in perspective. There are any number of sensitive problems that the Governor deals with and will have to deal with every day.
It is well known—President Machel has admitted it in public, because he is anxious to co-operate in this context—that a considerable number of Mozambiquans have been serving for a long time in Rhodesia alongside the Patriotic Front forces.
No, I have given way a great deal and I should like to complete what I have to say now to give an opportunity to hon. Members to make their points. Then, with the leave of the House, I will try to answer their anxieties at the end of the debate.
In trying to get the problem into perspective, I have been seeking to demonstrate some of the achievements. It disappoints me that every time some Labour Members make a speech or intervene on this matter they identify only the problems, never the successes and the progress. I wish that sometimes they would give credit to all those who are taking part in this great exercise in Rhodesia.
At the risk of incurring the hon. Gentleman's further displeasure, I should point out to him that the Lord Privy Seal's statement on 18 December clearly enunciated that there would be no question of the presence of foreign units or South African units in Rhodesia. I well understand that when a practical situation arises the Governor may want to take a different decision, despite the psychological disadvantages that will undoubtedly ensue.
Has the Patriotic Front been consulted about the presence of the unit? Have any representations been made by Mr. Nkomo or Mr. Mugabe? If so, and if they object because of the psychological disadvantages and the clear pledge that was given, will the Governor review the situation and make sure that the small contingent is withdrawn?
I have already made plain to the House, but I will endeavour to reiterate the matter to the right hon. Gentleman, that the purpose of the South African force is solely to defend the Beit bridge. The force is monitored. The Governor has made plain, and I stress it again now, that the problem is constantly under review. The value of the exercise is that, under the Lancaster House agreement, machinery has been established in Salisbury, through the ceasefire commission and the election council, that enables any of the leaders of any party to make their views known. Not only that, but the Governor is accessible to all parties. All the leaders who are there have seen him on regular occasions and they can make their views known to him in that way. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), with all his experience, will acknowledge the importance of that.
I am anxious to co-operate with the House and, with the leave of the House, I shall enlarge further upon some of fee anxieties of hon. Members at the end of the debate. However, I should like to complete my comments now to enable hon. Members to make their contributions.
I should like to stress the achievements. On the political front, I have already described the arrangements which have been made for elections. The ban on ZANU and ZAPU was lifted immediately the agreements were signed. Leading members of both parties, including Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo, have returned to Rhodesia. Considerable progress has been made towards normalising Rhodesia's relations with neighbouring countries. Both Mozambique and Zambia have established liaison offices in Salisbury and action has begun on reopening border crossing points and restoring rail and road links. Maize shipments to Zambia resumed shortly after the Governor's arrival. Many other binational problems are being discussed by Rhodesian officials with their counterparts.
A growing number of other countries are opening missions in Salisbury and the EEC has agreed, subject to endorsement by the European Parliament, to a special trade regime with Rhodesia with immediate effect. This will be of great assistance in stimulating trade and employment. A start has been made in tackling the refugee problem. An important meeting was held in London on 4 January, attended by Rhodesian officials, the Patriotic Front and representatives of neighbouring countries, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the ICRC, to discuss arrangements for the return of refugees. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has agreed to co-ordinate the operation, as I have already said, and has launched an appeal for funds. Work has begun on establishing reception centres and it is hoped that the return will start next week.
Within Rhodesia, former restrictions have been considerably relaxed. A general amnesty has been declared. The cases of all detainees are being reviewed. All those formerly detained on the basis of ministerial orders have been released, the final lot this afternoon. Martial law courts have been suspended and martial law itself will be lifted when the ceasefire is fully effective. These are significant achievements.
It is important that we air the problems. I am not complaining about that. I hope, however, that Opposition Members, especially those who have dwelt upon the problems, will also reflect on the improvements in the situation, particularly when contrasted with that which prevailed before.
Of course, many difficult problems remain to be tackled. There is evidence of serious breaches of the ceasefire agreement by Mr. Mugabe's forces, in particular the extent of cross-border movement since the ceasefire came into effect. There is also the question of the detainees still being held by Mr. Mugabe's party in Mozambique. There are some 70 former senior members of ZANU in detention. They have applied to us to secure their release so that they can take part in the elections. Their release is required by the Lancaster House agreements. It is urgent not only on humanitarian grounds but because several political parties in Rhodesia wish to nominate them to stand in the elections, for which nominations close on 21 January.
We have made representations to Mr. Mugabe on this subject, so far without result. It is intolerable that political figures of any party should be prevented from taking part in the elections. The Government take the view that there is a responsibility on Mr. Mugabe to release these detainees so that they, too, can benefit from the settlement.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. If he wishes to raise a subject, I shall try to deal with it at the end of the debate. I should like to complete my remarks to allow time for other hon. Members to speak. That is only fair.
At the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Lusaka, the Government agreed to bring Rhodesia to legal independence on the basis of free and fair elections. No one should underestimate the extraordinarily difficult task that confronts the Governor in carrying out this obligation. There will inevitably be charges of bias from both sides, and there are such charges every day from both sides, but we are determined to hold elections in which all parties can take part on an equal footing. The Governor will be impartial.
We have agreed to shoulder this burden. We look to our friends in the Commonwealth to give us their support in this exciting challenge of bringing peace and independence to Rhodesia. Lord Soames and his team are doing a terrific job. I am sure that the whole House will support him and wish them well.
The next six weeks until elections will be a crucial time, but if all parties abide strictly by the agreements reached at Lancaster House the Government are confident that the difficulties ahead can be successfully negotiated and the elections held under peaceful conditions. The record so far should encourage us for the future. I commend the order to the House.
As the Minister said, the order is vitally important. It is the order through which the powers of the Governor to arrange and prepare for elections are given by the House as well as the vital duty, on which we have not dwelt, to establish a new Government after the election has been completed. Article 3 of the order is crucial. It is of monumental significance in that the Governor has to arrange the election.
In the successful exercise of the powers he is given, the Governor has to establish the essential preconditions for fair and free elections. Many of the questions that my hon. Friends will be asking during the debate will centre on this point. The first of the preconditions is the establishment, as the Minister has mentioned, of a ceasefire and its maintenance. Without the maintenance of a ceasefire, the elections will be held in most difficult and potentially horrifying circumstances.
The second precondition that has to be established is the basis on which all the parties will have free and equal opportunities to campaign during the course of the elections. That is a factor that the Minister did not mention, but I shall take it up.
We noted yesterday the Lord Privy Seal's assessment of the progress of the ceasefire. We pay tribute to all those who have taken part in the move to get this far. Substantial progress has been made. There have been many achievements. It was an extremely difficult situation. The parties concerned were scattered and had been fighting each other. In many instances they had been in the bush for a long time. Tribute must be paid to many, including the Patriotic Front commanders, for having played a part in the success that has been achieved.
Surely we are entitled to ask questions and to probe. The House must be vigilant. There are British troops involved. The House has a role and a responsibility. We do not question and probe in the spirit of negative criticism or with a will to get issues out of proportion. We recognise that the problems are our responsibility. We have to deal with the problems as well as acknowledge the achievements.
The Government have our prayers and support in trying to achieve the task with which they are faced. It is vital that we maintain the trust, support and good will of all parties. The Foreign Secretary and the Government generally have to have the support and good will of the key neighbouring Governments and Heads of State who played such an intrinsic and essential part in the success of the Lancaster House conference. It is against that background and in those circumstances that we direct our attention to the presence of South African troops.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) has challenged the Government on the decision that has led to the presence of South African troops. The Government—presumably in the form of the Foreign Secretary—must have given their authorisation. I shall be grateful if the Government spokesman confirms in his reply that the Foreign Secretary authorised the decision for South African troops to remain. Surely it was a fundamental error of judgment and principle.
I am trying to understand the Opposition's position. Presumably they do not want the Rhodesian security forces and/or the Patriotic Front to guard the Rhodesian side of the bridge. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am trying to ascertain the Opposition's position. Do they want the Rhodesian security forces or the Patriotic Front to guard the Rhodesian side of the bridge? The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has indicated that he wants the British Army to perform that role. What is the position?
We must persuade the Government to talk to—or to send instructions, a directive or advice to—the Governor to change what we consider to be an unfortunate and sad judgment concerning the South African troops.
We reacted strongly to the rather flippant dismissal of our objections and representations by the Lord Privy Seal yesterday. A categoric, unequivocal and unconditional assurance was given to the House on 18 December which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition recalled a few minutes ago. However, of equal importance is the fact that the Foreign Secretary gave an unequivocal assurance at the Lancaster House conference on 5 December that South African troops would leave. It was only that assurance that broke the deadlock on the ceasefire negotiations at Lancaster House.
On 5 December the conference was deadlocked on fundamental issues concerning the ceasefire. The key that unlocked the deadlock was the categoric statement by the Foreign Secretary that there would be no South African troops in Rhodesia.
The record is clear for all to read. I was referring to part of the record that is not known—that at the conference on 5 December it was this categorical assurance that broke the deadlock on the ceasefire. That is why Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo attached such importance to it, as well as to the intrinsic argument about the presence of foreign troops in a British colony under a British Governor.
It is wrong for the Minister and the Lord Privy Seal to dismiss this issue as minor. It is not minor if it raises anger, fear and concern in the minds of the front-line Presidents and causes them to meet and issue a strong statement, so that we are in danger of losing some of their good will and support. The Minister did not reply to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The decision was criticised by Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo. It was not taken with their approval.
What is curious is that we are told that the number of troops is small. Surely it is not beyond the capacity of the British forces or the forces of our Commonwealth friends to carry out the task. I am sure that the Kenyans would happily assist. Apparently a small number of troops is causing this incredible distrust and concern, which is justifiable and understandable.
I well understand the feelings that the hon. Gentleman is expressing. I know that they are shared fairly widely among the people in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The hon. Member has looked at the bridge and so have I. It is difficult to guard half a bridge. One set of legs is on one side and one set is on the other. Having seen the bridge, it is perfectly clear to me that one lot of troops is required to guard the bridge rather than two.
There are some remarkable examples of bridges being guarded by troops of two factions. One of my hon. Friends has just reminded me of the bridges between Jordan and Israel. There cannot be a more difficult problem of security than that, but those bridges are guarded by the respective sovereign Powers.
The Minister said that the matter is under constant review. I think it is time that a decision was made requesting the South African troops to leave. They should be replaced now by alternative troops, whether Commonwealth forces, British forces or any combination that the Governor may decide.
Whose command are these troops under? Are they under the command of the Governor or of the South African military? Is not the position that these troops are on colonial territory but not under the command of the Governor of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia? If they are not under his command, our objection is heightened, because that means that the troops answer to the South African military. Whatever trust we might have of Lord Soames, we have no trust of the South African military commanders.
The second point I would like to make is this. The conduct of free and fair elections depends upon an organised campaign and a good opportunity to organise that campaign. It is necessary to have the printing materials, transportation and the variety of practical things that we normally have during an election campaign. We are all experienced hands. Under our system, he who comes first grabs the lot, but in the extraordinary circumstances in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, where the military, commercial and bureaucratic systems fully support one party in the coming elections, it is the duty of the Governor and the election commissioner to ensure that there is full and equal opportunity to carry out an election campaign.
There was an example last weekend. News reports inform us that when Mr. Nkomo returned home no loudspeaker equipment was made available to him. That is the sort of petty and nasty inequality which must be removed if conditions for free and fair elections in Rhodesia are to be created.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) raised the crucial question of the role of the Rhodesian security forces and, more important, the auxiliaries who are roaming around the countryside and seem to be exercising considerable power in the enforcement of the ceasefire. Throughout the constitutional conference, the fundamental principle of the ceasefire was that the respective commanders and their forces should be responsible for their own discipline.
Did the Governor authorise the Rhodesian security force to shoot seven guerrillas in a bus when they refused to stop? Was that an authorised act, or are Rhodesian security forces and, more frighteningly, auxiliaries roaming the countryside exercising their own discipline or indiscipline over the ceasefire arrangements? If so, that is contrary to the basis of the Lancaster House agreement.
These issues are of vital importance. I am delighted that the Minister has said that the Government will support the idea of a parliamentary commission to observe the elections. That is a vital role for the House, and we shall have a role in the vigilant obeservation and scrutiny of the actions of the Foreign Secretary and the Governor in what we all accept is a difficult period and a difficut task. I pray every night for the Governor's success and for a clear cut and successful outcome to the elections so that Zimbabwe can have true independence and a sovereign Government that we can all support.
It is sad to see that when the Government are making history the Opposition are acting like one of the Rhodesian baboons that those of us who lived in Rhodesia can recognise. It is an unfortunately hairy and ugly creature which is fond of searching through his hair for any flea or nit to pick.
The creation by the Government of the chance of peace in Rhodesia surely must be welcomed. Surely, the presence of a few South African troops must be seen as one of the small imperfections that can occur when one is making history. Have Labour Members in Government never had to accept an imperfection when making a change that has defied Government after Government? The only comments that they make resemble the actions of the Rhodesian baboon.
I am surprised at the remarks of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands). He has seen the bridge and knows the difficulties. If he were a South African, would he not be concerned to protect a bridge that was in military terms an extremely difficult target?
Has the hon. Gentleman seen the bridge? Does he realise how vulnerable it is? It is a spidery construction of metal. One tiny bomb would destroy it. Do Opposition Members realise the extraordinary vulnerability of that link across Africa? I suspect from their laughter that they do not. They are denigrating themselves by making the comments they make about the Government. It is a very precious thing that this Government have created.
I shall make only two other points. It is easy for us, understanding the complex way in which we run our elections. where we have committee rooms and can telephone local councils to arrange the whole structure, to imagine that that is possible in and can be imposed upon Rhodesia. As one who lived there for 12 years, may I assure all hon. Members that it is a vast territory, where the standard of literacy is such that one's posters and pamphlets will not be read by many millions of one's constituents. So how on earth can the same sort of judgment be made as is made here, on British standards?
It has to be said that the noble Lord who is looking after the affairs there has gone an enormously long way towards achieving some form of democracy. Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I can assure them that history will remember their mockery as being the least helpful and the least positive contribution to what is indeed a step towards democracy in Africa.
I wish only to ask three questions, but before doing so I respond to what the Minister said by emphasising that certainly from this Bench we greatly appreciate what has been achieved and greatly hope that it will be successful.
My first question refers to Beitbridge. I do not think it is necessary to expand the question, but what puzzles me about the whole thing is that it really is a terribly small matter. The Minister said we must get things into proportion. If it is a question of getting things into proportion, let me recall that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) indicated that this was a small and fragile bridge and could be blown up. We know that it is the main supply line through which the food is being pumped up to the assembly points, and, therefore, it is very important that it be kept open. But why create a situation in which there is an affront to the frontline States and objection is created when really it is a simple matter of a very small force? Perhaps the Minister will indicate how many people are required to guard the bridge, because I do not understand why it is necessary to have South Africans on one side of the river rather than the other. I find this very difficult to understand.
My second question concerns a matter to which the Minister referred—the fact that something like 75 to 80 ZANU peo- ple are still confined in Mozambique and that he is engaged in making representations to Mr. Mugabe in this regard. Since he has already referred to this, perhaps he may not be able to say any more about it, but I certainly say to him that we on this Bench regard this as a very important matter. Clearly, it is very important to all sides that all those who wish to participate in the election should be able to do so.
On this point, may I ask what legal representation, or what sort of representation, if any, is available to those within Rhodesia whom the Governor decides he cannot release? I am not sure how many people this refers to, but it must refer to a number and I should be interested to know what sort of appeal they have in that situation.
My third and last point refers to something which, despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) from the Opposition Front Bench, is still not very clear to me. The Minister referred to the fact that a small number—I think he said a group—from this House would be able to go to monitor or witness the elections. It is not clear to me exactly what this means, how the group is to be chosen, when it is to go, who is to go or how the question is to be decided. It would be very helpful to the House and to a third party which is not part of the normal channels to know this.
I have never previously dared to speak in a debate on Rhodesia. For 10 years I have listened to almost all the debates on this subject. On several occasions I have been at variance with my constituents, many of whom have regarded me as a dangerous Left-winger in the line I have taken. I have watched with frustration, anger and despair what has happened since UDI, and my overwhelming feeling this evening is of relief and thanks that at last a way seems to have been found out of this impasse. On this occasion I make my first and perhaps my last remarks on Rhodesia, shortly to be Zimbabwe.
To bring 20,000 armed guerrillas out of the bush, men who had fought for what they believed in for a long time with total dedication, who now have sufficient confidence in the arrangements that have been made voluntarily and peacefully to come into Rhodesia and assemble as agreed, is an achievement which we would be very foolish to underestimate. A debate on an order like this would have seemed incredible just a few months ago.
Labour Members have questioned the presence of South African troops. I understand the fragility of the agreement and the reasons which give rise to the expression of concern about anything which might destroy the agreement which has been reached. But, in my humility, I am prepared to accept that the judgment of Lord Soames is probably rather better than mine because he is on the spot.
I hope that Opposition Members will not take it amiss when I say that we have to look at the judgment of the Governor against the judgment of Opposition Members and what they have been saying over the past 15 years. I remember the headline "Bomber Thorpe". The Liberal Party's solution was to bomb its way out of the problem. I remember the attitude of some Left-wing members of the Labour Party. I can only describe it as hatred towards the white population. It was not attractive to behold from the Benches opposite, even though some of my hon. Friends had precious little sympathy with the illegal Government that was declared after UDI.
It would be nice to think that the full and free democratic elections that we hope will shortly take place in Rhodesia might occasionally happen in the country of which President Nyerere is presently the head.
I shall not give way. I am making a few short remarks as simply as I can.
On the subject of South African troops and the arrangements announced by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I understood him to mean that he would not tolerate any intervention by foreign troops on Rhodesian soil after sanctions had been lifted and the country had been returned to legality. There is a difference between intervention and invitation. I understood him to mean that we would not tolerate anyone we did not want there. Presumably, if the Governor is satisfied—he is not an unintelligent man—that, in spite of the obvious public relations difficulties that the presence of South African troops could cause, that is a risk worth taking, it is one that the House should also be prepared to take.
I offer my thanks and congratulations to the Government and, through the Front Bench, to the Governor, our forces, the Patriotic Front and all the peoples of Rhodesia, of whatever colour. I wish them success and hope that the orders that we are putting through the House tonight will be the first step to the creation of a country which will not only have one election but might even—unlike many of its neighbours—have elections in the future.
I shall concentrate on the detailed electoral arrangements which article 3 of the order empowers the Governor to make. I think we all agree that we place a heavy responsibility upon the Governor to ensure that free and fair elections take place.
During the Committee stage of the Southern Rhodesia Bill on 12 November 1979, I pointed out what I believed to be some of the unfair aspects of the elections that took place in Rhodesia in April 1979. I expressed the hope that the forthcoming elections would be held on a different basis. So far, I do not think that that hope has been greatly fulfilled, because most of the arrangements have been a fair copy of what took place last April, except, of course, that there will be eight additional seats for the common roll constituencies. These are being allocated in accordance with better estimates of the population in the various electoral districts, with two more seats going to the Mashonaland West constituency, where there was a serious underestimate of population for the elections last April.
However, the absence of an electoral register means that it is still possible for any voter in Zimbabwe to choose the electoral district in which he shall vote in the common roll elections. The way is open for the political parties to transport their committed supporters to districts where their votes may have greater strategic impact. That is what happened last April and it looks as if it may well happen again.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) indicated to the House on 12 December that all the available buses in Rhodesia had been booked up by Bishop Muzorewa's party for the period right through to next March. Such use of transport would be blatantly unfair.
I think that the Under-Secretary of State must give us some idea of what limitations are being put on the expenditure on transport by the parties in Zimbabwe at next month's elections. More generally, he should tell us what limitations will apply on all expenditure by the parties in the election.
Another feature of the elections last April—which, apparently, it is the Governor's intention to apply at the forthcoming elections—was the requirement that a party must poll at least 10 per cent. in an electoral district before it could be eligible for any seats to be allocated in that district. This 10 per cent. threshold is really in contradiction of the proportional nature of the allocation of seats. It acts unfairly against the smaller parties.
In the coming elections, four of the eight electoral districts have each been allocated more than 10 seats. So the quota, technically called the "Hare quota", to be used in the allocation of seats will be less than the 10 per cent. in those four seats.
For instance in Mashonaland East, which has been allocated 16 seats—and is the district which includes Salisbury—the quota will be 6¼ per cent. But the 10 per cent. threshold will prevent a party from obtaining a seat until its vote is more than half as much again as the quota for that seat. Last April, only two of the electoral districts had this difficulty with more than 10 seats each, so the anomaly arising from the existence of the 10 per cent. threshold is made much more significant in the elections to be held next month.
Under any system of proportional representation—I am not arguing in favour of such systems in general—the existence of a quota should itself be sufficient to avoid the necessity for any threshold. What is more, if there is a threshold such as the 10 per cent. that is recommended—
We in this House tonight are being asked to approve an order, and the order says that the Governor is to make arrangements for the elections. This is the opportunity that we have of commenting on those arrangements and suggesting how those arrangements can be improved.
The existence of the threshold, coupled with the freedom to transport voters from one district to another, can have two other effects which I think would be undesirable in the interests of fairness in the elections. For instance, a large party may be tempted to swamp a particular district with supporters in order to push smaller parties beneath the threshold in that electoral district. Conversely, the smaller parties, if they have the transport available, will be tempted to concentrate their voters in their best constituency in order to surmount the threshold there.
Therefore, I ask the Under-Secretary to consider very seriously whether we really need the threshold of 10 per cent. It goes against the proportional nature of the elections which are to be held. I hope that it will be possible, even at this late stage—I believe that there is still time for this change to be put into practice during the elections—for the Government to think again and help to bring about fairer elections by doing away with this threshold.
I wish to say three things very briefly. First, over many years I have had the privilege, as have many other hon. Members, to go to Rhodesia, and at the moment when it becomes Zimbabwe I am filled with a sense of great relief that it should have happened.
Mr. Joshua Nkomo has been a guest in my home in London. I have been a guest of his in his home in Salisbury. There were times when I came to think that Joshua Nkomo had changed from being a man of peace to being a man of war, but I never really believed it. I am delighted that in Nkomo's case he has been able to come back to take part in an election and, no doubt, if the votes are cast in the right way, to play some perhaps important part in the future of his country.
The same goes for the many other personalities whom over the years one has come to know, some better than others. Bishop Muzorewa is not the favourite of every Member of this House, perhaps, but he is a man who has served as he thinks right the cause of his people. The same goes for many of the white population. I freely say that I continue to have considerable affection and respect for many of them.
But this is not the time for debating the differences between the various sectors in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe. It is a time for recognising that there is a chance—perhaps only a slim chance, but a realone—to come together. I am sure that the House tonight will want to pass these orders with acclamation and with relief and with good will for the future.
I now turn very briefly to my other two points. As regards, the bridge, I understand full well the anxieties that have been expressed. South African troops have a hagiology in Africa that is all their own. Rightly or wrongly, they possess it. I can well understand the anxieties that have been expressed, but in the end it is a largely practical question. It is a very spidery, metallic structure that reaches across the river. It is not there, as I understand it at the moment, primarily to do the South Africans very much good.
Every day, trains travel across the bridge carrying food that comes from South Africa and goes to feed the people of Zambia. Every day, trains go across that are starting to carry out—for the first time in years—some of the minerals that Zambia needs to sell. It is of crucial importance to Zambia as well as to Rhodesia, although not so much to South Africa, that the bridge should stand.
We can debate ad nauseam the numerous bridges around the world where one set of troops are on one side and another set of troops are on the other. That is true of the bridge over the Jordan and the bridge in Hong Kong. However, I trust that this bridge no longer divides warring parties. Hour by hour and day by day, the bridge carries minerals and food that are required if the settlement is to stick. Howsoever the Governor has decided to maintain the security of the bridge, at this distance I am prepared to accept that he probably knows best. Of course, he will have heard the views of Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Nkomo and the front-line Presidents, as well as hearing those expressed in the House of Commons tonight.
For many years Lord Soames served in the House and was our colleague. He is not unaware of these matters, but he has had to make a balanced judgment. In the practical sphere, a balanced judgment requires that he takes some conscious risks. However, he no doubt takes the view that the security of the bridge must come first, so that the food and minerals can flow. He cannot take any risks about that.
Like many hon. Members, I have had the good fortune—or perhaps it is the misfortune—to have seen a number of difficult wars. I saw most of them as a correspondent. I shall always remember the Mau Mau in Kenya and the horrors of that. I saw wars in Malaysia, Cyprus, Vietnam and Borneo, but to my knowledge there has never been a case where guerrillas have come out of the bush to lay down their arms. These guerrillas have taken that risk in the face of their enemies. There has never been a case where, in the interests of peace, the security forces have watched the boys come out of the bush, despite all the maiming, killing and horror.
Throughout the history of guerrilla wars—and I have seen a little of it in Cyprus, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Kenya—I never expected to see such a thing or to see it work. I hope and pray that it will work in Rhodesia. The House should wish British soldiers, the British Governor and Rhodesian Zimbabweans of all complexions the very best of fortune.
I have not participated in discussions on Southern Rhodesia before despite my interest in the subject, because the negotiations conducted by the Foreign Secretary caused me to doubt the pace, pressure and tactics that were used from time to time. I thought that the broad thrust of those negotiations was right and that it was right to bring the parties together. It was right to guide them towards putting their differences to the test of the ballot rather than that of the bullet. It was right to put the parties in a context where the arguments between them had to be fought at a political level rather in a military fashion.
The problem that now arises and faces us with tonight's order concerns the provisions that were included as a result of the negotiations. It appears that it was more important to get an agreement and to complete the negotiations successfully than to provide effectively for what came after. We are now in the danger that the chickens may come home to roost.
There are three crucial problems. First, there is the speed at which the elections, which we are in part providing for tonight, have to be carried through. The date was fixed and the haste was brought about because of the negotiations. It is impossible for the parties to organise effectively in the period provided. We are asking these people to transform themselves from military organisations into political machines in far too short a period. They have to change guns into canvass cards. They have to reach out with these machines into the remotest regions of a country that has been war-torn and in parts still is. Many of the roads are mined and there are horrendous problems of communication. The requirement was always too tight, and delaying the arrival in Salisbury of Mugabe and Nkomo made it even more difficult. Far too tight a timetable has been imposed on the elections.
Secondly, there is a lack of back-up provided for the Governor. The monitoring force is far too small effectively to do the huge job asked of it, and the administrative back-up is pathetically small. There is a lack of effective control by the Governor over the media and the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation in particular, which has effectively been the machinery of propaganda. It is being asked to transform itself overnight into something totally different and to run an impartial campaign over the election period. It was as if Dr. Goebbels at the end of the war had been asked to take over Radio 4 and run it as a traditional impartial service. The lack of control over that machinery of propaganda is a serious weakness.
More important is the lack of backing and independent advice for the Governor, and there has been a failure to provide him with his own administrative machine. We have effectively sent the noble Lord naked into the conference chamber—and that is not a pretty image or a pretty situation. The levers of power are still in the hands of those who have been controlling them throughout the rebellion. The Governor is far too dependent on their advice, efforts, surveys of the security situation and use of force. The Governor not only has to be fair but has to be seen to be fair. How can he be when the security forces are still out, still in action and still killing?
The report of the constitutional conference provides that the role of the military forces of both sides in the interim period will be to maintain the ceasefire. Why is one side allowed to maintain that ceasefire with armed force while the other is not? It is not an impartial administration. It cannot be impartial when only a matter of minutes averted an air strike to blast laggard guerrillas, who were in a delicate negotiation over putting down their arms, out of their camp. We are in a dangerous situation if that is the narrowness with which risk was averted.
The number of auxiliaries has been estimated at up to 20,000, and I should be interested to have an estimate from the Minister. They are effectively nothing more than armed bully boys, who are operating out of control. Who is monitoring the auxiliaries and what are they allowed to do?
How can the force be impartial with South African troops controlling the bridge? In all the arguments from the Government Benches, no one has mentioned the time at which South African troops began to control both sides of the bridge. I crossed that bridge in 1975, and Rhodesian troops controlled one side and South African troops the other, and that was in a period of guerrilla war. It was not necessary then, in a period of armed insurrection, for South African troops to control the whole of the bridge. Why is it necessary now, and who is monitoring the South African troops? Whoever controls the bridge controls the road, the railway and the country round about. What is the sphere of operations of those troops, and who is monitoring them?
How can it be impartial? We have a Governor advised not only by the Rhodesian public service but by General Walls and his security services, and, indeed, dependent on them. This is not what it should be, which is an independent assertion of British influence. The more the situation is dependent on that kind of advice, from those who have controlled the levers of power up to now, the more it is in danger of being seen as a ratification of the people who have run the machine up to now.
The pattern of behaviour, so far as one reads it in press reports of the noble Lord—who, one would have thought, would have been a man to show a pugnacious independence—has been quiescent and muted, as if his main aim has been to get it over with and to get out as quickly as possible.
On the question of elections, we have had no satisfactory answer on the control of expenses. Given the financial resources backing the UAMC, what control is there to be over election expenses? We have had no satisfactory answers on the impartiality of the broadcasting service and on the control of transport, so much of which seems to have been bought up already. Yet it is crucial to a successful election operation. We are handing control to those who organised the last test of opinion, with all its unsatisfactory aspects.
The success of the noble Lord in getting this over and done with depends on his independence now. He is in the very dangerous situation of a tight-rope artiste. It is crucial that a tight-rope walker should lean neither to the right nor the left but should stay absolutely upright and be impartial between the sides. The indications coming out are that that is not happening.
The last imponderable is the nature of the pull-out at the end, because that was always to be the most crucial and difficult aspect of the operation. We are providing for it in part tonight in the order. The dangers are that, with the weighting of the electoral system to the white seats, to form a government a party will have to get 60 per cent. of the votes. In other words, the parties are set a virtually impossible and insurmountable hurdle, particularly if the Patriotic Front stands separately in two groups or breaks up
We shall therefore be faced with negotiations for a coalition, in which the parties to those negotiations are armed, in which they are two sets of security forces, both of which have shown nothing more than a sulky acquiescence in what has happened because they hoped they would come out on top, with conflict still to be fought out and with politicians who do not trust each other enough to work together. In that situation, we seem to be providing for the quickest pull-out, which could produce an extremely dangerous situation unless it is handled with more determination and independence now and more willingness to see the operation through and more determination to see Britain's responsibilities fulfilled than one detects in the proceedings to date.
I have spent some time putting forward a position which was not that of my party leadership. For a time I seem to have been plumb in the middle of its policy. I suspect that one or two of my remarks this evening may disqualify me from the Rhodesia bus for the trip which goes out in a month's time.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the list of achievements which our right hon. Friend gave yesterday and some of the extra points that my hon. Friend has made this evening show that the risk of the conference was worth taking, that pressure during the conference was effective, that the work of the Governor in Rhodesia and of the parties there has led on to rather more hope for relatively free and fair elections and that there is a relatively greater chance of peace after the election when Rhodesia becomes independent than I for one expected at any time up to now.
Other things can be said—for example, that prohibited immigrants have been left off the list. A number of people have been allowed to return to Rhodesia who had previously been excluded. I welcome that. It is also important to recognise—I hope it is right—that the sharing of election broadcasting has been agreed between the parties. That, again, I welcome as a sign of co-operation between the parties. I come next to a point upon which there might not be general agreement. I find the present South African troops on the Rhodesian side at Beitbridge slightly curious, unless the Governor has also chosen to invite the Zambians to stay on the Rhodesian side of the Zambian border and Mozambique troops on the Rhodesian side of their border. However, the Governor's judgment may be better than mine, and he will have more information than I have. It would be interesting to hear whether the arrangement with the South Africans is to continue. It might also be interesting to hear from the South Africans themselves whether the arrangement is at their request and initiative or at someone else's.
I do not think that this question is of great military significance, but it is of political significance. I do not expect the issue to be sorted out immediately, but I hope that by the time Rhodesia becomes independent there will be no question of South African troops being on the Rhodesian side of the Beitbridge or, if it is likely to be proposed by the South Africans or the newly elected Government in Zimbabwe, of Zimbabwe being allowed to have its troops on the South African side of the bridge.
I am a great believer in fairness and the balance of power. Whether a bridge is spidery or not, the balance of power is important for political reasons. I hope that, even if my hon. Friend cannot deal with this matter this evening, he will make sure that the general issue is dealt with, preferably before elections and certainly before independence.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood from the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) that there was agreement between the two Front Benches that as the orders were to be taken separately the debate could extend for three hours and there would be licence about its scope. It would therefore be more appropriate if the Minister were to speak at the end of the second debate in reply to a much broader discussion. Surely, that would meet the needs of the House.
I was not here when the announcement to which the hon. Gentleman refers was made, but it is clear that the orders are quite separate. The Minister cannot reply to this debate at the end of the next debate. That will be on a completely different subject.
Whilst I am on my feet, I should like to point out that the next order is very limited and deals only with the National Bank of Rhodesia.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may now seek to answer some of the points that have been raised.
When I introduced the order, I said that certain hon. Members were constantly referring to problems. I do not complain about that. As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) rightly said, the House has every right—I should be in deep trouble if I tried to complain about it—to probe the activities of the Executive and of the Governor. The Government are accountable on this matter, and it is my task to endeavour to answer the points.
I in no way underestimate the importance of the issues that hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised. I was seeking to say only that in the context of what has been a war lasting seven years we should, perhaps, from time to time remind ourselves of the achievements, and I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their contributions this evening. I am grateful for the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil to the contribution of all parties at Lancaster House to reaching a successful conclusion and to the Governor for the work he is doing.
It is a fact of life that it is easy to criticise and much more difficult to build and construct, which is what we are all trying to do. That is the point I was seeking to make.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) asked about the arrangements for parliamentarians to which I referred in opening. The British Government propose that a small number of Members of Parliament of all parties and both Houses should be given facilities by the Government to go to Rhodesia and observe the elections. We have still to make arrangements through the usual channels. We shall have discussions to see what plans can be drawn up.
We can provide facilities for only a small number. Perhaps many other hon. Members will wish to go to Rhodesia of their own accord. Of course, the Governor will do his best to co-operate with those who wish to do that. He will do his best to provide them with facilities out there, but his resources are already heavily stretched. There is a large number of Commonwealth observers. A whole mass of members of the world press will be there. There are clearly limitations to the Governor's practical ability to provide facilities and assist hon. Members who do not come into the special category.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Members who make up the parliamentary commission should be those who have not campaigned actively for one of the parties taking part in the election?
I am sure that the usual channels will note my hon. Friend's contribution. These facilities having been offered, it is not for me or the Government but for the usual channels to discuss these matters and suggest how the final arrangements should be made. But I thought it would be helpful to tell the House the position.
Several hon. Members raised questions about the balance in the media and the free and balanced access to the media of all the parties during the election. Of course, this is a singularly important matter. It was raised on a number of occasions in the debates in November and December. We have very much taken on board some of the suggestions made from both sides of the House.
Earlier this week, the election commissioner announced that all political parties—there are 10 registered parties now in Rhodesia—would have equal access to the media. That assurance has also been given by the authorities that run the media there. In order to ensure that there is fair balance in the presentation in the media of the political opinions of all the parties, the BBC has sent out an adviser, who has been there for the past few days, to meet the Governor and give advice on how this can be fairly achieved. I hope that the House will welcome that.
A number of hon. Members raised questions about electoral procedures. For example, the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), who clearly has a deep knowledge of the proportional representation system, is very anxious to seek clarification of the method that is to be used. The bulk of the constitution and its main principles were agreed at Lancaster House, but for the purposes of this election much of the existing electoral law of Rhodesia is available to the Governor and the election commissioner to use at their discretion. It is still for the commissioner to determine the guidelines on certain election procedures. I shall ensure that he takes note of the hon. Gentleman's points—for example, about the 10 per cent. threshold. The threshold is not unique to Rhodesia; many proportional representation systems have it. I shall make sure that the point gets across to the election commissioner and I shall give the hon. Member a full reply to it by letter in due course, as well as replies on the other points that have been raised by other hon. Members on electoral procedures.
I reiterate that the main objective of the Governor's presence, supported by the election commissioner, is to ensure that in the present conditions of Rhodesia we can hold free and fair elections. Every day, that point must be uppermost in the Governor's mind.
What is the Governor doing about the auxiliary forces that are at present said to be guarding the protected villages and which open up, on a massive scale, the possibility of intimidation by private armies? Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that the forces will be withdrawn from the villages so that people can have freedom of movement?
I remind the House that the auxiliary forces, as part of the Rhodesian security forces, are under the authority of the Governor. Any complaints about the activities of any of the security forces are referred to the ceasefire commission. There have been a few complaints about the auxiliary forces which are being investigated by the commission. The commission, as I have already told the House, meets twice a week.
I have only one minute left.
I know that there is anxiety in the House about this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), in a contribution with which almost all hon. Members would concur, said that it is up to the Governor at the end of the day to make a judgment as to how he can secure law and order and ensure that there are free and fair conditions for the elections. In answer to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil, I should say that my right hon. and noble Friend will give the necessary authorisation, and I stress again that the issue is under review. At the end of the day, the success of the operation will depend on the good will of all parties. I believe that we have every chance of succeeding.
We do not have time tonight to rehearse the arguments about Rhodesia, but this Government did not create the ceasefire. The conditions for the elections were fought for by the Patriotic Front.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).