Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat), a human rights campaigner and former Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign and commonwealth affairs, opened the debate.
Reflecting on 40 years of service in the British Army, Lords Dannatt said that the conflicts that formed the backdrop of his career were ‘all about people: their rights, their hopes and their future. That was all that the people of Zimbabwe were asking for.’ To live ‘free from intimidation in a secure environment that is conducive to freedom and prosperity.’ Was that too much to aspire to after the first decade of the 21st century, he asked. There must be a generation of Zimbabwean army officers trained during the 1980s at the staff college established in Harare by the British Army who ‘know that there is a better way than that of the repressive dictatorship of Robert Mugabe,’ he said. Would find the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing. ‘They know what that is; we taught them.’
The military covenant, debated in the Lords on 27 January 2011, was ‘at the heart of the people issue.’ It sets out the relationship between an elected Government that decides on military operations to be carried out and its citizens in the armed services who carry them out . ‘When the covenant is in balance, much can be achieved: when it is out of balance, the sparks fly,’ Lord Dannatt said. ‘In a mature democracy such as ours we can debate these things, imbalances can be rectified and the scales brought into equilibrium: but in a brutish and nasty society such as Zimbabwe's today, the imbalances are perpetuated, injustices go unchallenged and the poor get poorer while the rich get what passes in Zimbabwe for richer. It is therefore no surprise that decent people around the world say that enough is enough and that the regime of Robert Mugabe has more than had its day.’
Paying tribute to ‘to those who, despite the repression and opposition, have continued to try to do what is right for the people of Zimbabwe’, Lord Dannatt spoke of the charitable funds raised for pensioners. ‘In a country such as Zimbabwe, rich with agricultural and mineral potential, it should not be like this,’ he said. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a chance, just as the people of Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have deserved a chance – a chance given to them, or a chance being given to them, by our nation, as I have witnessed over the 40 years of my military service, but there is more to do.’
Lord Howell of Guildford responded on behalf of the government.
The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.
Image: Press Association