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Gibraltar: Future

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1986

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2.50 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the interests of good Anglo-Spanish relations and in the light of the remarks by the King of Spain during his recent visit to this country, they will now reconsider their attitude to the future of Gibraltar.

My Lords, the British and Spanish Governments are discussing their differences over Gibraltar in the friendly and co-operative spirit that befits two European allies and partners. Those discussions are taking place against the background of the British Government's commitment to honour the wishes of the Gibraltarians.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware, however, that circumstances have changed very dramatically over the past few years; that Spain is now a democracy and a member of the European Community? Would it not be in the interests not only of Great Britain and Spain but also of the people of Gibraltar in the longer term that sovereignty over Gibraltar should be transferred to Spain, subject to the necessary safeguards, such as a lease-back or any other arrangement that may be appropriate?

My Lords, we are fully aware of the changes and transformations that have occurred in Spain over the past few years, and not least of the importance of Spain's entry into the European Community in that context. The important point in this respect is that the process of negotiation has begun and that the climate has been improved. As King Juan Carlos himself said here in this Parliament, there remains a long way to go. It is very important to us that discussions on sovereignty at all times take place against a background of firm political commitment to the Gibraltarians.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that relations between this country and Spain are not helped, but are indeed hindered, by linking them with a claim to override the wishes of 27,000 British subjects who, so far at any rate, have indicated that they desire to remain British? Will my noble friend advise our Spanish friends that pressing that point will do harm and not good?

My Lords, we are fully aware of the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. We fully intend to respect those wishes and I believe that the Spanish Government are fully aware of that commitment on our part.

My Lords, we have noted with great interest what the noble Baroness has said. Is she aware that on 13th May Sir Joshua Hassan said that it was his firm intention to introduce a new impetus in the near future in respect of the Brussels Agreement on Gibraltar? Will the noble Baroness tell the House what form that impetus has taken thus far?

My Lords, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has always been fully consulted about and involved in negotiations. He himself welcomed the references made by the King of Spain during his speech to this Parliament to the progress that was being made. At present I am not in a position to inform the noble Lord of any new impetus since 13th May. I can only say that with the British presidency of the European Community coming up the incidence of meetings and contact between Spanish ministers and the British Government will, if anything, increase. Within that context, I have no doubt that more progress will be made.

My Lords, is there any reason to suppose that the inhabitants of Gibraltar, any more than the inhabitants of the Falklands, should have a veto on any decisions as to their future that may be arrived at, after negotiation, which, in the opinion of the Parliament in Westminster, are in the interests of those inhabitants, of this country itself, and indeed of the peace of the world?

My Lords, any attempt to make a comparison between Gibraltar and any other particular part of the world can be difficult and dangerous. I can only reaffirm to the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government have guaranteed to the people of Gibraltar that their wishes will be taken into consideration in any negotiations.

My Lords, it must be one noble Lord or the other. We have heard one noble Lord from the Liberal Benches. Perhaps we may now hear my noble friend and then the noble Viscount.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Gibraltar Act, would my noble friend not agree that it is rather more important that the people of Gibraltar should reconsider their attitude towards the Kingdom of Spain rather than the United Kingdom reconsider its attitude towards the future of Gibraltar?

My Lords, since the full opening of the frontier in February of last year there has been increased contact and co-operation between the Spanish people and the people of Gibraltar. I believe that such contact can only be good and of benefit to the ultimate outcome

My Lords, might it not be a useful step forward if Spain were to offer dual nationality to those in Gibraltar?

My Lords, it is not for me now to pre-empt the negotiations that are currently in progress. It may be that Spain would make such an offer and we would consider it at the time.

My Lords, as these negotiations are taking place in a friendly and constructive fashion, might it not be more helpful that they should be continued rather than made sour by ill-advised questions in your Lordships' House?

My Lords, I can only agree wholeheartedly with the noble and learned Lord.

My Lords, it takes more than a trivial remark to prevent me from saying what I have to say. I am very concerned about the future of the people of Gibraltar. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness whether she is in a position to tell the House this afternoon that before any ultimate decision is made the people of Gibraltar, who have always exhibited such great loyalty to Great Britain, will be fully consulted, and that nothing will be done until such consultation has taken place?

My Lords, I believe that I have already said enough to convince the noble Lord that that will be so. We are all very concerned about the wellbeing of the people of Gibraltar.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her use of the verb to "honour" governing the noun the "wishes" of the inhabitants will be observed with the greatest interest throughout Europe? Is the noble Baroness in a position to comment further on what that phrase means in this context? How does it differ from "abide by", or "pay attention to", or "give overriding value to"?

My Lords, the British people have a reputation for honouring their agreements in the international context, and my use of those words will be applied in that particular context also.