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House of Commons

Wednesday 2 March 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


British Railways (No. 4) Bill

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers to Questions


Belize --

1. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he has had with his opposite numbers in the European Union concerning relations with Belize.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : We keep other member states informed of developments affecting Belize. The European Community welcomed Guatemalan recognition of Belize in 1991 and its reaffirmation by the new Guatemalan Government in 1993. The European Community also urged Belize and Guatemala to continue to work for a full settlement of their territorial dispute.

Mr. Morgan : Does the Minister agree, however, that there is a serious potential threat to Europe from the creation of a vacuum in Belize when the British garrison is withdrawn in October ? These days, that vacuum is likely to be filled not so much by Guatemala as by the Colombian cocaine and crack cartels. That has happened already, since the pretty disastrous Drug Enforcement Agency spraying campaigns aimed at locally grown marijuana in the mid-1980s. The vacuum has already been partly filled by Colombia. Will the Minister therefore give some thought to how we can ensure that when the border ceases to be patrolled by a British garrison, there is no threat to Europe

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has obviously not heeded at all the statement that I made to the House on Thursday. I am sure that I have the support of the House in asking that hon. Members ask brisk questions.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We are not withdrawing entirely from Belize. There will continue to be a British training presence and an aid programme there. We have also made it clear that we stand ready to be consulted in the event of a real threat to Belize materialising, contrary to our present assessment.

Mr. Wilkinson : Notwithstanding the good relations between the United Kingdom and Guatemala and between

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Guatemala and Belize that happily exist at present, will my hon. Friend consider discussing not with the European Union but with the Government of Nepal the possibility of basing a Gurkha battalion in Belize ? That would be beneficial to the Gurkhas, who have been drawn down from Hong Kong, and potentially to the defence of Belize as well.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Our position has been made clear. The garrison is being withdrawn--indeed, progress in withdrawing it is already in hand-- but a training presence will remain. If the Gurkha units mentioned by my hon. Friend require jungle training in central America, doubtless they will be considered for that role.

Kashmir --

2. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Indian Government this year over the future of Kashmir.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd) : My right hon. Friend'smost recent discussions with the Indian Government over the future of Kashmir took place during his visit to India in November.

Mr. Madden : When Prime Minister Rao visits Britain later this month, will the Government tell him that they believe that the people of Kashmir have a right to self-determination ?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I have no doubt that when the Prime Minister of India visits Britain, our Prime Minister will discuss with him a range of matters, including Kashmir. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we feel that four ingredients are essential : there should be a dialogue between India and Pakistan, respect for human rights, a political process in Kashmir and a cessation of external support for militants in that area.

Mr. Jessel : Does my hon. Friend accept that Britain's historically excellent relations with India will tend to be upheld by India's welcome decision in relation to Kashmir to set up a human rights commission ?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : Yes, that decision is most welcome, and we expect the first report from the Indian human rights commission shortly. It will deal with a wide range of issues that have been drawn to its attention.

Bosnia --

3. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on Bosnia.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : Members of the Security Council consult continuouslyon that subject in capitals and in New York. The most recent formal meeting of the Security Council took place on 14 February.

Mrs. Mahon : Surely, if we are to have a lasting peace in Bosnia, agreements such as that declared today between the Croats and Muslims should occur after consultation with, and the agreement of, all five permanent members of

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the Security Council. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Serbian leaders are claiming that the United States is bypassing the United Nations ? Does that not make affairs much more difficult in that area, especially for the Russians ?

Mr. Hurd : As I told the House yesterday, we have welcomed the progress that the Americans have piloted between the Croats and the Muslims. We hope that that will form part of an eventual full settlement.

Sir Peter Emery : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the progress that has been made between the United Nations and the North Atlantic Assembly, which have advanced the prospect of peace, continues to try to ensure that other areas that are surrounded can be relieved ?

Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I am sure that he is right.

Dr. John Cunningham : Since everything that has been done so far in Bosnia has been done with the authority of the resolutions of the Security Council, is it not important that, whatever objectives are sought with the best of intentions, they should be acceptable to the Security Council of the United Nations ? Is it not apparently dangerous to see the developing spheres of influence dominated, on one hand, by the United States of America and, on the other hand, by Russia ? If part of Bosnia is to ally itself with Croatia, is not the danger that the concomitant will be that the other part of Bosnia will want to be merged into a greater Serbia-- something which the whole conflict has been an attempt to prevent ? In those circumstances, what position will the European Union adopt ?

Mr. Hurd : What we need and have been working for is a negotiated settlement. It cannot be imposed. It has to be negotiated. The content of that settlement is secondary ; it has to be agreed. If the agreement announced yesterday between the Croats and the Muslims matures, if it takes full shape, the question will be how the Serbian part of Bosnia fits into that. That will be the next stage of the negotiation. Of course, all that has to be done under the basic authority of the UN.

Exports --

4. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what help is given to British industry and commerce by British embassies and high commissions to promote British goods and services in the export market ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : Our posts concentrate hard on promoting British exports. We now have 201 commercial sections overseas and 20 new posts have been opened or reopened since 1990. Those posts provide a wide variety of help to British companies. They seek out export opportunities, advise companies on the business to be won in their markets, lobby on their behalf for major contracts and against discrimination and organise visits by trade missions and Ministers to win business. Research shows that 70 per cent. of our customers are satisfied with our service and 90 per cent. said that they would use those services again. The value of British exports world wide rose by £3.3 billion in the past year compared with 1992.

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Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the role played by the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry in securing export orders and jobs for the country is disgracefully undermined by the naive, sanctimonious and dishonest campaign waged by certain newspapers and Opposition parties with regard to Malaysia ? Does he accept that it will mean the loss of British exports and British jobs and that the only outcome will be that we will become the laughing stock of our major competitors, which will step in and pick up the jobs that British workers should be doing ?

Mr. Hurd : I spent two and a half happy hours on that subject this morning. What emerged is that, since June 1988, we have followed two policies of facilitating and building up defence sales to Malaysia and getting our share of civil contracts with the help of aid and trade provision under the rules. Those have been separately and successfully followed. The grave accusation that my hon. Friend and I are under is that we have done too much to help British business and protect British jobs.

Mr. Enright : Notwithstanding that reply, will the Foreign Secretary give an absolute guarantee that not only will he not encourage the sale of land mines but he will forbid their export to anywhere else in the world ?

Mr. Hurd : I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman on that-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] Yes, because there are various types of land mine and, as the hon. Gentleman certainly knows, an intricate international discussion is going on at the moment about how that area of arms sales can be limited and reduced. So, rather than chance my arm, I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Alexander : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Trade and Industry is seconding 100 business men with export expertise to that Department ? Will he arrange for some of those people to be used in the high commissions and embassies abroad so that we can beef up our export strategies there ?

Mr. Hurd : We are doing that and I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I should like to draw the attention of the House to a letter in The Independent today from Sir Derek Hornby, chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board, and others bearing out what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) implies, about the substantial improvement in recent years in how the Foreign Office helps British exports.

Mr. Rogers : Regardless of the synthetic bluster of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), does the Foreign Secretary agree that, whatever embassies and officials do, their work is undermined when a Government are prepared to abuse and distort trade negotiations and overseas aid provisions ? In the case of Malaysia, are not the Government putting jobs in this country at risk by their shady, behind-the-door deals ?

Mr. Hurd : There has been a great deal of bluster on that subject and we can now see the harm that Opposition spokesmen and others have done to British interests. I am glad that the Select Committee concentrated on the core of the matter and went into it steadily. It was not beguiled into believing the nonsense spoken by the spokesman for the Liberals and the spokesman for the Labour party. They

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tried to bring completely unrelated and extraneous matters into the argument--the bluster, to use the hon. Gentleman's word, which has done so much harm to British interests in the past few weeks.

Israel --

5. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about relations between Britain and Israel.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : Our bilateral relations are excellent.

Mr. Marshall : Will my right hon. and learned Friend express the sympathy of the whole House with the victims of the Hebron massacre ? Will he also congratulate the Government of Israel on their speedy reaction to that massacre and express the hope that the act of one man will not derail the peace process in the middle east because, were it to do so, that would be victory for extremism ?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is right in every particular. It is vital that the peace process be kept alive. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a message to Chairman Arafat expressing our great distress at the crime that had been committed.

Mr. Galloway : Was not one of the swift reactions of the Israeli Government that their armed forces began to shoot down worshippers rushing from the mosque and, in the days that have elapsed since, including today in Hebron, have shot dead many people ? Does not Israel bear complete responsibility under the Geneva convention for the safety and well-being of the people under its occupation ? Did not Dr. Goldstein do and the rabbi who buried him say what many thousands of settlers in the occupied territories would like to have done and said ?

Mr. Hogg : In view of the hon. Gentleman's odious support for Saddam Hussein, I should have thought that he would think it wise to abstain from participating in questions on the middle east.

Sir David Madel : Before any negotiations begin between Israel and Syria on the possible withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights, is it the Government's view that, first, full diplomatic relations should be established between Israel and Syria, with all that that entails ?

Mr. Hogg : I do not think that that is a condition precedent, but it is important that there should be early movement by both sides. The Government of Syria need to make it plain that what is on offer is a full friendly relationship with Israel, and Israel needs to make it plain that she will withdraw from the Golan Heights.

Sir David Steel : Is the Minister aware that since the terrible tragedy in the mosque at Hebron, almost the same number of people have been killed or wounded in the disturbances that followed ? Will he, therefore, support the initiative of the stationing of a UN observer corps on the west bank and assure the Israeli Government that that has proved very successful in diminishing communal violence in South Africa ?

Mr. Hogg : The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the number of people who have been killed since the shooting in the mosque. There are attractions in

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stationing an observer force. Discussions are going on in New York on the terms and siting of such an observer presence.

Mr. Dykes : Does not the magnificent work for peace of Moshe Raviv, the Israeli ambassador in London, the fact that the Government resisted the foolish attempts to close a Palestine Liberation Organisation office many years ago and the fact that they are working together show that the majority of moderates both in Israel and among millions of Palestinians are yearning to reach a peace settlement ? Therefore, the British Government must persuade the Israeli authorities to proceed to the disarming of extremist settlers.

Mr. Hogg : It is extraordinarily important that the Government of Israel move towards disarming extremist settlers and act to prevent extremist settlers from coming into contact with Palestinians. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Dr. John Cunningham : I join the Minister in denouncing this heinous crime--the wanton slaughter of innocent people at prayer in the mosque at Hebron. All friends of Israel will share the views of the Israeli Prime Minister that that action was a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism. Is not the most important thing for Her Majesty's Government to do now to encourage the resumption of the peace process ? In that connection, we should remind the Government of Israel of its duties under the Geneva convention to protect all citizens, especially the Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza. Should not other provisions of the agreement--the release of prisoners, the symbols of statehood, an international presence in the occupied territories and the establishment of a PLO civilian police force-- be quickly accelerated ?

Mr. Hogg : It is extremely important that all parties to the peace process negotiations resume them as speedily as possible. I welcome a number of steps that have been taken by Prime Minister Rabin to disarm the extremist settlers and, indeed, to announce the release of a number of those held in detention.

Bosnia --

6. Ms Hoey : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made to bring about peace in Bosnia.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : The continuing ceasefire in Sarajevo and the recent ceasefire agreement between the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Croat forces are welcome steps towards an end to the fighting. We also welcome the agreement between the Bosnian and Croat Governments initialled in Washington today.

Ms Hoey : Does the Minister recognise that millions of people in this country do not understand why the concerted action that has been taken in the past couple of weeks could not have been taken with Britain taking the lead over the past two years ? Nevertheless, if General Sir Michael Rose comes back and tells the British Government that more British troops are needed to make the peace progress continue, will the Minister give an assurance that he will bring that request to the House ?

Mr. Hogg : I do not imagine that the electorate in this country will understand the hon. Lady's criticism. The

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British Government have committed 2,400 troops to Bosnia. With the exception of the French, that is the largest contribution.

Mr. John Townend : What is the total cost to the taxpayer of the British operation, and what proportion is refunded by the United Nations ?

Mr. Hogg : The overall figure that I have in the back of my mind is £170 million. However, because I might be misleading my hon. Friend, I should prefer to write to him with the details. .

Turkey --

7. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit Turkey to discuss the position of minorities.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Turkey on 19 and 20 January. He has no plans at present for a further visit.

Mr. Rooker : Was it spelt out in clear terms to the Turkish Government that while they maintain discrimination against minorities, particularly the Kurdish minority, by banning the use of the language, not allowing the teaching of the language and banning its use in public speeches, any application that they make to join the European Union is totally and utterly out of the question ?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : When Turkey originally applied to join the European Community, the application was turned down and it was pointed out that its human rights record did not come up to the required European standards. I believe that that is the case even today. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised those matters with Mrs. Ciller, the Prime Minister. We believe that Kurdish aspirations must be pursued constitutionally. That is a message for the PKK--the terrorist organisation --and for the Turkish Government.

Sir Jim Spicer : Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a world of difference between meeting Kurdish aspirations and the problem that the Turkish Government have in dealing with one of the most vicious terrorist organisations in the world ?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Yes. The PKK does not respect human rights, but the message delivered forcefully by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was that the Turkish Government must not respond in kind. They must deal with the terrorist threat within the rule of law and by respecting human rights.

Ms Quin : Did the Minister see the reports in the Financial Times of 20 and 21 January in which the United Kingdom and Germany were described as

"Turkey's main friends and advocates within the EU" ?

It was also reported that the Foreign Secretary was seeking to deepen ties between Turkey and the European Union. Will the Minister confirm that there will be no question of making further progress with Turkey's application to join the European Union and that it should be a long way back in the queue, certainly behind the former communist countries of eastern Europe which are now democratic and are seeking to join the European Union ?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The European Union has important relations with Turkey and it was important that

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my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary should develop them further. There is no question of reassessing the possibility of Turkish membership of the European Union at present.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : I recognise that there have been atrocities on both sides, but has my hon. Friend seen the recent report by Amnesty International which outlined the appalling atrocities committed by Turkish security forces in the eastern part of Turkey ? One incident involved the burning by the security forces of a 16-year-old shepherd boy from Kurdistan. Will my hon. Friend confirm that Turkey's application to join the European Union will have no chance of further progress if that country continues to have an appalling human rights record ?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Any such behaviour by the Turkish security forces is wholly unacceptable and I can confirm that when Turkey's application to join the European Union is reassessed, its human rights record will play a part in that assessment.

Cyprus --

8. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the most recent round of talks on Cyprus.

Mr. Hurd : Negotiations resumed in Nicosia on 17 February. They are focusing on a package of confidence-building measures, which has been agreed in principle by both sides. It is important that the parties should take advantage of the present opportunity to make progress because it may not quickly recur.

Mr. O'Brien : Missing persons and the settlement of land and buildings are issues which involve human rights. I should imagine that they are part of the 14 confidence-building measures arising out of the talks. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the confidence-building measures will continue and that pressure from the special UN representative, Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government will be placed on Athens and Ankara to get the talks under way and settled ? Can we be assured that business arising out of the talks will not be withered ?

Mr. Hurd : In recent days, I have been in touch with Mr. Joe Clark, the Secretary-General's representative. I saw the Prime Minister of Greece about this matter the day before yesterday and, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, I have talked to the Turks recently. There is an opportunity here, starting with the measures proposed, for the reopening of Varosha and of Nicosia airport.

We will do all that we can as a guarantor power to make sure that all the parties to the dispute seize the opportunity. As I have said, if the opportunity is lost it may not come again quickly.

Mr. Waterson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is growing frustration in the south of the island at the length of time it has taken to get the confidence-building measures in place, particularly as, according to experts, it could take up to two years for the airport to be made usable again ?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with that, and I share the frustration. We will urge those involved in the negotiations to press ahead as fast as they can.

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Mr. John D. Taylor : In welcoming the decision of the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots to accept in principle the UN proposals which were supported by the Government, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to confirm that the Government also support the recommendations of the UN working party to implement those proposals ? Do the Government support in particular the suggestion that in the interests of air safety there should be only one air control system for the new international airport at Nicosia and the existing international airport 10 miles away at Ercan ?

Mr. Hurd : The proposal is that Nicosia airport should reopen under UN control. I am not familiar with what is proposed for air traffic control. I am sure that it is important, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and I will look into it further.

Middle East --

9. Mr. Streeter : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit Israel and the middle east to discuss progress on the peace talks.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : My right hon. Friend visited the region in January. He had useful discussions with the principal participants in the peace process. He has no plans at present for a further visit.

Mr. Streeter : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a terrible tragedy would become an international disaster if a peace process which could bring meaningful and lasting benefit to millions were to be scuppered by the appalling Hebron tragedy, which was the work of just a few ? Will he arrange for himself and the Foreign Secretary to visit the region, where their formidable powers of diplomacy can be brought to bear particularly on the Palestinians and their supporters to get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible ?

Mr. Hogg : Yesterday, I had a meeting with four middle eastern ambassadors and with representatives of the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I hope to have further meetings with representatives of the PLO this week and I will certainly stress to them-- as has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary--the importance of resuming the peace process and talks as speedily as possible.

Mr. Faulds : Would it not help the peace process between the PLO and Israel if the Foreign Office were to urge that, in the interests of peace, the Israelis should deal extremely stringently with the settlers and withdraw both them and the settlements ? Does the Minister agree that it is not generally realised that the reasonableness of the PLO has led to Israel having 75 per cent. of what was Palestine while the PLO has less than 25 per cent ?

Mr. Hogg : I accept that the settlements are a major problem which stand in the way of a peace settlement. I strongly endorse the action taken by Prime Minister Rabin to disarm the extremist settlers, but there are grave difficulties in disarming all the settlers as many of them face substantive risks themselves.

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India --

10. Mr. Spring : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of current relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of India ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : Relations between Britain and India are excellent.

Mr. Spring : My hon. Friend will be aware of the great strides being made by the Indian Government in liberalising and privatising the country's economy. Will he assure the House that help will be given to British exporters to access that growing and important market and to capitalise on the truly excellent relationship between the British and Indian Governments ?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have massive commercial interests in India, and Britain is the second-largest overseas investor in that country. Our investment is rising dramatically, and last year trade increased by more than 20 per cent.

Mr. Godsiff : Bearing in mind the excellent relations Britain has with India, will the Minister ask the Indian Government whether they have any objections to British Members of Parliament travelling to Indian-held Kashmir to see for themselves the situation there ?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : I am always encouraging the Indian High Commissioner to persuade his Government to allow more visits by British parliamentarians. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) visited India in January this year, and went to Kashmir. Lord Weatherill has been to Kashmir recently. The International Commission of Jurists and several international lawyers, led by Sir Philip Goodhart from Britain, have been there. Many American and French senators have also travelled there. There is much independent observation of what is going on.

Mr. Lord : Will my hon. Friend accept from someone who had the good fortune to visit India with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in January this year that relations between our countries seem to be better than they have been for a long time ? Is he aware of the enormous boost given to trade between our two countries by the Prime Minister's visit last year and the truly excellent work done by our high commissioner in India ? Will he urge British business men to make best use of the opportunities now offered in India ?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that the opportunities exist. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last year launched a great trade initiative. It culminated at the end of the year with the Indo-British week in November, to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary went and at which 16 major deals worth £1.2 billion were signed.

Middle East --

11. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the middle east peace process.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent his condolences to chairman Arafat and, through him, to the families of the victims and the injured

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of the massacre in Hebron. I very much hope that that crime will not be allowed be stand in the way of the peace process.

Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that I have written to chairman Arafat, whom I was pleased to meet in London, and to my friend, Afif Sofieh, his representative in the United Kingdom, to express my personal grief and anguish at the awful killings in Hebron ? I wish to make it plain that that is the sentiment of the entire Jewish community of this country. I know that the members of that community would, like me, want to associate themselves with the words of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who hoped that the assassin would not achieve his end--the end of the peace process.

Mr. Hogg : I know that what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said will be echoed and repeated by the entire Jewish community in this country.

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