HC Deb 01 July 1992 vol 210 cc839-41
9. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made towards democracy in South Africa.

Mr. Hurd

Before the negotiations were suspended, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa had made remarkable progress in securing agreement on transforming South Africa into a non-racial democratic society. That makes all the more tragic the recent increase in violence. I remain convinced that the interests of the majority of South Africans are best served by concerted efforts to put the negotiations back on track as quickly as possible.

Mrs. Lait

May I please begin by mentioning that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset. West (Sir J. Spicer) is missing from his place in the Chamber today because he is organising the parliamentary plunge on behalf of Macmillan nurses, which is well on the way to raising a substantial sum of money for that well-known charity.

Following the tragic events in the beautiful and sad land of South Africa, does my right hon. Friend agree that mutual trust is at the heart of any peaceful settlement? What concrete examples does he have of ways in which Britain can help the parties in the dispute?

Mr. Hurd

It is clear that the problem of violence lies at the heart of the difficulty and mistrust. That is why we are keen to help Judge Goldstone and his commission of inquiry into public violence and intimidation. Dr. Waddington of Reading university is helping the commission in its work. I can tell the House that, in addition, two senior Metropolitan police officers, Commander Tom Laidlaw and Detective Superintendent David Don, are going out to South Africa to help Judge Goldstone with his work. That is a practical example of how we can help to curb the violence and thus reduce the mistrust.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the awesome scale of the disaster that may face South Africa as a result of the breakdown of the negotiations? As a matter of urgency, will he activate a decision taken by the European Council to send the Foreign Ministers of Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom—the troika —to South Africa to investigate what is happening? The Foreign Secretary will learn there at first hand of the desperate need of the people of South Africa for outside intervention and influence to resolve matters.

Mr. Hurd

I am in touch with the South Africans about that. For example. I telephoned the South African Foreign Minister last night. At the right time and with the right purpose, a visit by the troika of Ministers—which I would lead—could be useful. I am anxious to do it at the right time, in a way that will help to bring people back to the conference table, and not merely as a prestige gesture.

Sir George Gardiner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cause of democracy in South Africa is ill served by those who would pin all blame for the breakdown in negotiations on one party? The obvious answer is to get the talks going again as soon as possible. Will my right hon. Friend further confirm that the British Government wish the outcome of the talks to be a constitution in which all racial groups can play their part, and that it would not be in our interests for South Africa to slide down the road to one-party rule?

Mr. Hurd

It is clearly for the parties who have been sitting round the negotiating table in South Africa to decide among themselves what their country's future constitution should be. It is tragic that they made a lot of progress, as my hon. Friend knows, and were separated by a narrow but important difference, before trust was undermined and the conference temporarily suspended as a result of the violence. I confirm that the answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is yes.

Mr. Hanson

In condemning the recent violence in South Africa, would the Secretary of State impress upon the South African Government that the patience of the African National Congress is running out? Does he agree with the view expressed in early-day motion 347 that a re-imposition of the sports boycott on South Africa would be appropriate to show international condemnation?

Mr. Hurd

Everyone has to show patience and it is a bad sign when people start talking about patience being exhausted. Great reserves of patience will continue to be needed in South Africa—not for apartheid, but for the difficult business of replacing it with a democratic constitution. A sports boycott would not be a good idea. It is for sporting bodies to decide and not for Governments, but to start to go down that weary road again would give entirely the wrong signal.

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