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Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the Government will consider the forthcoming referendum in Gibraltar to approve the new constitution to be an act of self-determination by the people of Gibraltar. (82615)

As my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw) set out in his written ministerial statement of 27 March 2006, Official Report, columns 44-46W, the new constitution provides for a modern and mature relationship between the UK and Gibraltar. I do not think that this description would apply to any relationship based on colonialism. The constitution confirms the right of self-determination of the Gibraltarian people. The realisation of that right must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the UN Charter and any other applicable international treaties. Gibraltar's right of self-determination is not constrained by the Treaty of Utrecht except insofar as Article X gives Spain the right of refusal should Britain ever renounce Sovereignty. Thus independence would only be an option with Spanish consent. Her Majesty's Government recognise that the act of deciding on their acceptance of the new constitution in the forthcoming referendum will be an exercise of the right of self-determination by the Gibraltarian people in that context.

The new constitution does not in any way diminish British sovereignty and gives Gibraltar much greater control over its internal affairs and that degree of self-government compatible with British sovereignty and the UK's continuing international responsibilities. If the new constitution is agreed the UK will retain its full international responsibility for Gibraltar, including for Gibraltar's external relations and defence, and as the member state responsible for Gibraltar in the EU. The UK's long standing commitment that the UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes will be unchanged. This is also set out clearly in the Despatch which will be published at the same time as the Gibraltar Constitution Order and the draft of which I will place in the Library of the House. I will also send a copy to my hon. Friend.

It has also been the UK's long standing view that none of its remaining overseas territories, including Gibraltar, should remain on the UN list of non self-governing territories, despite the different circumstances affecting Gibraltar, namely the application of the Treaty of Utrecht as noted earlier. However, the criteria used by the UN are outdated and fail to take account of the way that relationships between the UK and its overseas territories have been modernised. The UK does not, therefore, engage formally to seek the removal of any of the overseas territories from the UN list.