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House of Commons

Wednesday 25 October 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Midland Metro Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Cox : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the present position on the United Nations-sponsored intercommunal talks on Cyprus.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Francis Maude) : The intercommunal talks are stalled at the moment. The United Nations Secretary-General recently met the leaders of the two communities and will shortly present to them his views on how the talks can resume. We hope that this happens soon. We shall continue to give Mr. Perez de Cuellar our full support.

Mr. Cox : While I note that reply, is the Minister aware that President Vassiliou's efforts in seeking to unite the island of Cyprus have sadly come to nothing? As this country is one of the guarantor powers, does the Minister consider that the Government should now start to take a far more involved role and seek to bring together the Governments of Greece and Turkey to work out a settlement that will unite the island of Cyprus once again? How long does he really believe that the United Nations can be expected to carry on alone in this crucial issue?

Mr. Maude : We take our responsibilities in respect of Cyprus extremely seriously, as the hon. Gentleman suggests that we should and as our contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping force indicates. As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, there can be no solution unless the leaders of the two communities reach agreement with each other. To do that, there must be talks. As I have said, we must give full support to the United Nations Secretary-General in his good offices mission to enable that to happen. We very much hope that it will be successful.

Mr. Michael Marshall : My hon. Friend will be aware that the next Inter-Parliamentary Union conference is to take place in Cyprus. Will he take this opportunity to assure the House that he will encourage our diplomatic

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representatives to facilitate the process of dialogue with all communities in Cyprus, including the freedom of movement which will be necessary in that process?

Mr. Maude : I say again that we shall do all that we sensibly can to encourage the process of dialogue to renew and to encourage the leaders of both communities to come to those talks in a spirit of good will, determined to reach an agreed settlement.

Mr. John D. Taylor : As Turkish Cypriots fully support the United Nations objective of a bizonal independent and sovereign Cyprus, will the Government confirm that they will act even-handedly to both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots? Does the Minister agree that intercommunal talks would be better facilitated if there were less provocation by the Greek Cypriots? For example, I refer to the pending visit to Bulgaria by the President of Greek Cyprus--a most tactless move--and the recent display of armaments on 1 October, including missiles and armed helicopters in southern Cyprus.

Mr. Maude : It is no secret that we think that it would be better if the President of Cyprus did not visit Bulgaria. It is important that the talks are renewed and that both sides go to them with good will, determined that the talks succeed. Our approach has been scrupulously even-handed and will continue to be so.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : Should not the Commonwealth be very strongly congratulated on its always outstanding statements on Cyprus? Will my hon. Friend continue to set his face like flint, as did his predecessors, against any form of recognition of the unilateral declaration of independence in the north of Cyprus?

Mr. Maude : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his compliments, which I accept on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who conducted the negotiations at the Heads of Government meeting. On recognition of the north of Cyprus, it remains our view that the declaration of independence was an illegal act.

Mr. Anderson : Does the Minister recall the passage in the Commonwealth communique which says that dialogue in the UN-sponsored talks- -the intercommunal talks--is the only means by which progress can be made to a peaceful solution? Will he confirm that that at least was one area about which the Prime Minister did not dissent or write a separate document? Will he urge the Turks to use whatever leverage they have with the Turkish Cypriots to end any stalemate, urge them to come to the table on the basis of the United Nations talks and impose no preconditions?

Mr. Maude : The hon. Gentleman's first point is so silly that it does not merit a reply. With regard to his second point, I repeat that we will do what we can to encourage the leaders of both communities to come to the talks in a spirit of good will.

Mr. Gale : Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are still totally opposed to the presence of the Turkish army of occupation in northern Cyprus? Will he further confirm that there is no question of Turkey joining the European Community while that army is there?

Mr. Maude : Certainly those are matters which will have to be discussed. It is essential that the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots have confidence in any settlement

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that is eventually agreed. That is a precondition for any settlement and the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred will have to be discussed and decided upon.

EC Social Charter

2. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards those clauses of the European Community's draft social charter which would ensure the participation of the work force in decision-making within companies.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. John Major) : We are fully committed to the principle of employee involvement, but we believe that it would be misguided to harmonise practice throughout Europe. It is for businesses to develop the arrangements that best suit their own circumstances and those of their staff.

Mr. Wallace : May I take this opportunity to congratulate, and possibly sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman, on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in his new office? Does he agree that there is a public mood that in 1992 with the single market, there will be much more than just a business man's Europe and that employees should be able to participate in some of the objectives including having a better say in the industries in which they work? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm reports that the French Government are proposing a revised draft of the European social charter in some way to trade off employee rights against closer European monetary integration? What is the Government's response to that? Does he accept that both objectives should be pursued with much greater vigour than the Government have shown hitherto?

Mr. Major : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. That was most kind of him. With regard to the social charter, of course the Government accept that there is a social dimension to the Community. Our concern is that the social charter is the wrong way to achieve the objectives that many people want. With regard to the French attitudes, we all wait to see what President Mitterrand has to say in Strasbourg later today.

Sir Anthony Meyer : Since many clauses in the social charter are modelled on British practices or, if amended, could be made acceptable to British practice, would it not be better for my right hon. Friend to exercise his talent for reconciliation to achieve some agreement rather than appear to reject the whole concept out of hand?

Mr. Major : At the moment our concern is that the Commission draft is a confused mixture of general principles and detailed intrusive regulation. We believe that that would have the practical effect of restricting the freedom of workers and employers to negotiate the most suitable arrangements for themselves and their staff. The employers and employees should negotiate those matters and there should be no imposition from above.

Mr. Benn : Is the Government's position not now clearly established, as it was in Kuala Lumpur, in that they sign an agreement and repudiate it later? The Prime Minister

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agrees to 1992, but repudiates its implications later. Is that not an example of complete consistency by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Major : No such agreement signed in Kuala Lumpur was repudiated. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will be aware of the many Cabinet decisions to which he subscribed which he apparently subsequently denounced in his memoirs.

Mr. Arbuthnot : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our record on social policy is really rather good compared with that of some of our competitors? Does he also agree that in the circumstances the last thing that we need is a social charter imposed by other countries?

Mr. Major : I can certainly confirm that. The essence of any social policy is to create employment. We have created far more jobs in the United Kingdom over recent years than any of our European partners. That creation of jobs should be the centre of any social dimension.

Mr. Kaufman : May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment and wish him a happy and constructive spell at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? I assure him that he can rely on security of job tenure at the Foreign Office, unless, of couse, he hears Mr. Charles-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question is about the EEC.

Mr. Kaufman : It is indeed, and I was offering my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman and saying that I hope that his job tenure will be acceptable to him and to Mr. Charles Powell. Since the right hon. Gentleman has responded to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) by drawing attention to the question of harmonisation, why is it that the Prime Minister traipses from international conference to international conference seeking to wreck harmonisation? She did so at the EC summit-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kaufman : She did so at the EC summit from a position of total isolation by opposing the social charter, at the NATO summit from a position of total isolation by opposing negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons and at the Commonwealth summit from a position of total isolation by repudiating the agreement that the right hon. Gentleman had negotiated.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask for brief questions.

Mr. Kaufman : My question follows directly on the subject of harmonisation. The Prime Minister repudiated an agreement that the right hon. Gentleman had negotiated to fulfil her role as the enthusiastic accomplice of apartheid in South Africa.

Will the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am reluctant to say this to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but such questions take a long time and that is unfair to the House.

Mr. Kaufman : Will the right hon. Gentleman stand up against Mr. Powell on such issues in the same way as the

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Chancellor is standing up against Sir Alan Walters? Is he going to be a Foreign Secretary or is he going to be the man who sweeps up after the Lord Mayor's procession?

Mr. Major : First, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I shall make up my own mind about my responsibilities as Foreign Secretary, as I was appointed to do. If I might bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the social charter, in terms of bringing harmony he may recall the Madrid agreement of Heads of Government that said that tackling unemployment was the top priority and that there should be a clear respect for subsidiarity. If anyone failed to bring harmony it was the Commission, which wholly ignored the instructions of Heads of Government. Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. We are making extremely slow progress. We have dealt with only two questions in about 20 minutes. I ask for brief questions as we shall then receive brief answers.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Unlike the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), may I ask a question about the social charter? Is my right hon. Friend aware that most of my colleagues believe that the social charter has no relevance to the single market? We believe that this sovereign Parliament should decide such matters, not the EC.

Mr. Major : I entirely share my hon. Friend's view and that is, of course, what the principle of subsidiarity means.

Hong Kong

3. Mr. Morley : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to visit Hong Kong ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Major : I hope to visit Hong Kong early in the new year. Precise dates have not yet been determined.

Mr. Morley : Is the Foreign Secretary somewhat relieved that after the Commonwealth conference's unanimous agreement to a statement on the position in Hong Kong, no member of the Commonwealth repudiated the statement one hour after making it? As the Foreign Secretary moves more towards the idea of compulsory repatriation, and there is much talk of economic migrants as against refugees, how does the right hon. Gentleman intend to determine between economic migrants and genuine refugees in the case of Hong Kong?

Mr. Major : First, on a point of information, the hon. Gentleman may care to know that no communique was repudiated-- [Interruption.] -- by the Government. The communique was accepted in its entirety and without demur. However, there were four areas in the communique on which I expressly declined to agree with my Commonwealth colleagues and the subsequent press statement set out the British position on those areas. In the case of Hong Kong, the international community has accepted for some time that all those screened out as non-refugees should, in due course, be returned to Vietnam. Ultimately, that is the only possible solution.

Sir Peter Blaker : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend not only on his appointment, but on securing the statement in the communique by the Commonwealth

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Heads of Government to which he has just referred, relating to the return to Vietnam of those boat people who are determined not to be genuine refugees? How far have my right hon. Friend's talks about monitoring such returns proceeded with the Government of Vietnam?

Mr. Major : Those talks are continuing. I hope that they will be concluded before too long, but, as yet, they are not wholly finished. We are concerned to ensure that when Vietnamese refugees and non-refugees return to Vietnam they are treated properly and fairly and we shall seek to ensure that monitoring arrangements are made to safeguard them.

Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Does the point of order arise out of the question?

Mr. Heffer : This is a very important matter, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members cannot properly hear what is being said. I do not know whether it has anything to do with the new television cameras, but we cannot hear the questions being put to the Minister, or the replies. Hon. Members sitting over here certainly cannot hear. Will you look into this matter, so that we can at least hear what is being said?

Mr. Speaker : Perhaps I should ask hon. Members to speak up. I had some difficulty in hearing the last question-- [Interruption.] Order. I shall have the microphones looked into.

Mr. Foulkes : I do not think that my hon. Friend's complaint will apply to me. Will the Secretary of State consider giving some assistance to the Government of Vietnam to help with the refugee settlement programme? Will he also do what he can to ensure proper safeguards and monitoring for the return of refugees? Does he understand that although Opposition Members support encouragement and persuasion to return for those not accepted as refugees, we shall strongly oppose forced repatriation? Will he now rule out force as part of his orderly return programme?

Mr. Major : I shall take the hon. Gentleman's final point first. It is becoming increasingly clear that voluntary repatriation cannot provide the comprehensive solution that is necessary. We are seeking to counsel and persuade the Vietnamese boat people to return to Vietnam. We are receiving the full support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in doing so. I invite the hon. Gentleman to recognise that the problem in Hong Kong is now acute. It is getting worse and cannot be borne much longer. It will soon be necessary to tackle the thorny question of involuntary repatriation. I shall do that as and when it is necessary. I shall most certainly be seeking safeguards for those people who return, because I regard that as a most important matter.

Mr. Lester : Will my right hon. Friend agree, before he approves any agreement with the Vietnamese Government, to consider the concerns of many colleagues in the House about the prospect of 33,000 Vietnamese non- refugees being forcibly returned to Vietnam? Will he also undertake to consider our views that any aid should be directed to their resettlement-- difficult enough in many communities in Vietnam--and that the United Nations or the European Community should examine much more

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carefully the rehabilitation of the whole of Vietnam's infrastructure and development, now that it has changed its policy to one of development and a market economy? Unless we do that, many of us will be deeply worried about reluctant or compulsory repatriation, given that people will be returned to the abject poverty from which they have come.

Mr. Major : Vietnam stands a better chance of getting what it wants from the international community if and when it fulfils its international obligations--that point must be understood. The key element is an unequivocal and public commitment by Vietnam to taking back all non- refugees in safety and dignity, and we shall seek that. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns ; I wish there were an easy alternative, but neither he nor anyone else has yet found one. The whole international community made it perfectly clear at Geneva and elsewhere that it was not prepared to take non-refugees. It is therefore not reasonable to accept that they will have to stay in Hong Kong for ever and I cannot, will not and do not accept that-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. May I say to those who are asking questions from a sedentary position that that does not help us to hear?


4. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Afghanistan.

Mr. Major : We have consistently supported efforts to replace the present regime in Kabul with a truly representative Government acceptable to the majority of Afghans. That is the necessary preliminary to any lasting settlement and to the voluntary return of Afghan refugees.

Mr. Wareing : It is now nearly six months since the Soviet Union did the right thing and withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. It is perfectly clear that the Government in Kabul is far from being doomed as we were told that it would be, but we do know that the feudal terrorists are pouring rockets into Kabul onto hospitals and buses, and innocent people are being killed. Will the Foreign Secretary assure us that he will use all his energies to ensure that neither the United States nor Pakistan gives succour or arms to these terrorists?

Mr. Major : In view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, he may be both surprised and shocked to know that in the six months since Russian troops left, 4,000 supply flights from Russia have gone to Najibullah.

Mr. Ron Brown : Does the Minister accept and understand why the regime has not been defeated? It is because the workers, peasants and above all the revolutionary women who support the Government have made it clear that they back enlightened change and reforms. It is about time that this Government understood those things and that one cannot defeat a revolution with popular backing. Despite all the dirty tricks, the regime in Afghanistan will prevail.

Mr. Major : I fear that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. So enlightened is the regime to which he refers that 5 million people have fled from it.

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Consular Officials (Spain)

5. Mr. Baldry : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many British nationals consular officials in Spain helped this summer.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : Between 1 June and 30 September 1989, British consular posts in Spain received 41,818 visitors and 49,538 telephone inquiries.

Mr. Baldry : I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Does he recognise that the whole House wants to thank consuls, and particularly our honorary consuls in Spain, for the work that they undertake on behalf of British nationals? Given that at least 500,000 British nationals are now permanently resident in Spain, is my hon. Friend confident that the present consular set-up is adequate to deal with their legitimate needs--for example, to deal with their pension and other benefit inquiries?

Mr. Sainsbury : I thank my hon. Friend, both for his welcome to me and for what he said about the excellent work done by our consular network in Spain. We have a particularly extensive network of consuls--12 consulates and six honorary consuls--and we keep both the size and the location of that network under review in the light of demands on its services and the resources available to us.

Mr. Dalyell : Is the Minister aware that the all-party heritage committee received great kindness and efficiency from our consul in Seville? Will the Minister give a mind to the problems likely to arise in July when it is a sweltering 110 deg and there is a huge influx of people for Expo? Has that been considered?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am glad to hear from the hon. Member that the all- party committee was well received by our consul in Seville. I note what he said about the problems that could arise during Expo--we are considering them--in the light of the temperature and the demands on resources in that area.


6. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been made to the Bulgarian Government in connection with their policy of Bulgarianisation of the Turkish minority.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : We have always used every opportunity to urge the Bulgarian Government to improve their treatment of their Turkish minority. Most recently, I raised this with the Bulgarian ambassador on 20 September.

Mr. Stern : Will my hon. Friend use the influence of the Government and the regard with which our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is held in both countries to take forward the process of diplomacy between Bulgaria and Turkey so that they start to talk and stop bouncing people backwards and forwards across the frontier?

Mr. Waldegrave : We shall certainly do that and, with our European Community partners, we hope that there

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will be a meeting in Kuwait between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries to discuss this issue. I believe that that would be sensible.

Mr. Litherland : Before any representation is made, will the Minister refer to the resolution emanating from the report of, and the in- depth debate that took place in, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in September, when blame was laid on both countries for the human tragedy and make every effort to bring about a dialogue between the two countries?

Mr. Waldegrave : I am well aware of that report, and I think that the hon. Member's advice is wise.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : The Bulgarians are treating their Turkish minority population with great brutality. Can my hon. Friend tell the House what replies he got during his recent visit and discussions with the Bulgarian ambassador?

Mr. Waldegrave : The result was not satisfactory. There has long been a policy of Bulgarianisation--making use of the language impossible, and so on. There are some signs that aspects of that are being abandoned. If so, that is welcome, but the huge scale of the movements across the border when it was open show how much pressure those Turkish people have been under.

Mr. Douglas Forsyth

7. Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if his Department will make further representations to the Egyptian Government regarding the failure of the Egyptian authorities to return to Mr. Douglas Forsyth control and possession of his villa in Egypt.

Mr. Sainsbury : No. Mr. Forsyth's father accepted compensation from funds provided by Egypt under the 1959 agreement for the presence of a sitting tenant when the villa was handed back.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : My hon. Friend will understand that that is a very disappointing reply. Is he aware that the compensation paid to the Forsyth family was in respect of capital depreciation and that there is not a scrap of evidence to support the Foreign Office's contention that that was in any way compensation for loss of the control and possession of their villa, to which they are entitled under the Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1959? As this family has been virtually defrauded by the attitude of the Foreign Office, will the Minister agree to meet me and the family so that we may see justice done and discuss this very legal point?

Mr. Sainsbury : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the energy and diligence with which he has pursued this case over a long period. He knows that the facts go back a long way. I am unhappy to have to say that our interpretations of the legal position do not agree. The advice I have received does not confirm his view that Mr. Forsyth's father did not receive compensation for the loss of vacant possession of his villa. I shall be happy to see my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

Mr. Skinner : Has the Anglo-Egyptian house compensation system been drawn to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who got kicked out of his house by the

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Prime Minister, acting like Lady Porter? What sort of a points system is the Government running when they kick out a man with a family and kids and put in a bloke who has no family?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think that it is in Egypt, is it?

Mr. Sainsbury : The hon. Gentleman raises his point of view with his usual ingenuity and delicacy. However, I fear that I cannot find any particular connection with the villa in Egypt and Mr. Forsyth.


8. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to promote a cessation of the conflict in the Lebanon.

Mr. Waldegrave : With our European partners we continue to support fully the Arab League committee of three Heads of State in their efforts to bring peace to Lebanon. We welcome the agreement reached at Ta'if by the Lebanese parliamentary deputies.

Mr. Bowis : Does my hon. Friend agree that there will never be peace in the Lebanon while the Syrian occupation troops are there? Does he further agree that there is considerable disquiet that the Arab League agreement, welcome as the efforts have been to reach it, appears to legitimise the position of Syrian troops in the Lebanon? Does he also agree that the Government and people of Britain will never compromise with a regime that has been shown by Amnesty International to be guilty of atrocities and which has been shown by other investigations to be guilty of air terrorism?

Mr. Waldegrave : Our views about some of the activities of the Syrian Government are well known to the House. We believe that it is right and necessary for the sovereignty of Lebanon for all foreign troops, including the troops of the state of Israel, to leave that country. We also strongly believe that in the tragic situation of that country the agreement gives the best hope of restoring proper sovereignty.

Mr. Galloway : The Minister could acknowledge rather more than he has in his answer the extent to which the fly in the ointment, or rather the dangerous angry hornet in the ointment in the Lebanon, is Syria. The Minister welcomes the Ta'if agreement, but surely an agreement that gives the Syrians two years to withdraw from Beirut and an unlimited time to withdraw from the Lebanon as a whole is rather less than perfect.

Mr. Waldegrave : I do not think that it is my job to say whether, ideally, a better agreement could have been written. We think that we have here the beginning of a process that could lead to peace in the Lebanon. We see nothing better on offer. There is certainly no hope of the Syrians being driven by force out of the Lebanon. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we are right and the agreement could lead to peace, it will only be if the Syrians withdraw--and the sooner the better.

Mr. Brazier : Does my hon. Friend agree that the record of the Syrians in Lebanon as shown by Amnesty International is one of almost unparalleled brutality? Their record in air terrorism extends from Hindawi to

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Lockerbie, yet we are endorsing an agreement reached at Ta'if that would leave the Syrian Army controlling almost every polling station in three quarters of Lebanon to elect a Government who are then supposed to discuss with the Syrians the possibility of their withdrawal.

Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend seems to be endorsing some other solution. We do not see any hope for the Lebanon other than that brought about by the work of the Algerians, the Saudis, the Moroccans and the Arab world as a whole. That is the only hope at present and it is incumbent on all those such as my hon. Friend who wish Lebanon well to do their best to support the agreement.

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