HC Deb 31 October 1955 vol 545 cc803-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

In the momentous debate on the Budget, we have heard a very sad story about the let-down of the masses of our people, but in this Adjournment debate I speak on behalf of the people of Gibraltar who, despite the fine words that have been said in official quarters in this country, have a feeling that they are in danger of being let down also.

I want to avoid making this a political, party speech, as I know that there are hon. Members opposite who are just as much concerned for the welfare of the people of Gibraltar as we are on this side of the House. I know, for instance, that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) would like to say a few words, so I shall reduce my speech in the hope that there will be a contribution which will make it less of a party affair.

It is quite clear that in their desire for friendship with Spain the people of Gibraltar have, for a long time, been putting up with torrents of abuse from the Spanish Press and radio, but they at long last see that it seems to be of no use, and they are therefore looking to us to make a great effort to end the cold siege which now oppresses Gibraltar and its surroundings. In addition, they ask that urgent measures be taken to protect the people of Gibraltar from Spain's efforts to apply an economic stranglehold.

On the Rock there is a strong feeling—which I can appreciate—that Her Majesty's Government will do nothing, even in the interests of Gibraltar, to disturb happy diplomatic relations with Spain. This is a very sad story. The people of Gibraltar recognise and fully appreciate our need to develop our trade wherever possible, including Spain, but they say—and I agree with them—that we have no right to do so at the expense of neglecting Gibraltar's interests.

If General Franco seeks to use Gibraltar as a means of strengthening his own position with the people of Spain, or, as seems more likely, as a lever to get into the inner circle of European countries, we must make it clear that it will not be at the expense of the welfare of the people of Gibraltar. Do not Her Majesty's Government see that in the case of Gibraltar that we have a wonderful opportunity of showing the people of the world that it pays to be a member of the British Commonwealth, and that even in the case of tiny Gibraltar, in time of difficulty, it will not need to look in vain to the Mother Country for assistance.

I ask for something really big, and in time, to be done for Gibraltar, before the people are tempted to follow the example of Cyprus and Malta to draw attention to their serious problems. It should be remembered that the British taxpayer is contributing more towards keeping peace and order in Cyprus than the amount of money that a few British traders get out of trade with Spain. The people of Gibraltar have every right to expect our full protection against all abuses, on account of their intense—and I underline the word "intense"—loyalty to this country.

I fully appreciate that the Minister may be tempted to charge me with overstating my case. I therefore feel it necessary to submit testimony from another person who will not be so easily thrust aside. I refer to Field Marshal Lord Ironside, one-time popular Governor of Gibraltar, who, in "Time and Tide" of 15th October, states: During our long occupation of the Rock there has sprung up a loyal British population of over 20.000 souls. Have we the right to barter their birthright for any good which may come to us thereby in our affairs with Spain? There is no need to outline what he means by that. The few words which I have quoted clearly indicate that a person of some substance really thinks that there is a danger that we shall sell Gibraltar's birthright in return for some benefits from Spain.

The people of Gibraltar note with some interest that more and more British visitors are going to Spain each year for their holidays, and they wonder if this would be so if our people were fully aware of the scandalous treatment meted out by Spain to Gibraltar. They also view with some. misgivings the fact that high representatives of this country, in Gibraltar, accept free passes into Spain, and other privileges.

By far the greatest need is an energetic approach to solving Gibraltar's economic problems and giving to these intensely loyal and responsible people much better control of their internal affairs. With this in mind, I hope that the Secretary of State will give his urgent and sympathetic consideration to the Memorandum on Constitutional Reform of the Government of Gibraltar.

There is a great need to get rid of some of our representatives, both Service and civilian, who in this enlightened twentieth century, still battle to retain a state of feudalism on the Rock. I condemn those high-ranking officers who, when they walk into shops, expect that the customers who are already there will step aside and let them be served. I condemn those who, in using the roads—I have seen it—expect Gibraltarians to give way to them.

It is time we treated the people of Gibraltar as adult and intensely loyal people. The visit of the Secretary of State to Gibraltar was greatly appreciated by them. I think he would admit that it was much too brief. They are hoping that he will return very soon and spend a much longer time with them and be seized from outside the Convent with the problems of the people of Gibraltar. There is a feeling in Gibraltar that the discussions about port development have been going on for long enough and that it is time something tangible emerged from those discussions. The need is urgent, because neighbouring ports have made tremendous strides in the construction of up-to-date protected harbours, with the result that the position of Gibraltar has lost much of the importance that it held in the past.

This is an important fact but there seems no reason why Gibraltar should not regain much of its former glory. That will depend upon Her Majesty's Government. There is the question of an allocation of oil-bunkering tankerage for commercial purposes during peace-time. The Admiralty seems to be taking an awfully long time to make up its mind. There is an undue procrastination but I hope that the position will be made clear in the very near future.

There is the disgraceful episode of the delay in sending out a wages arbitrator, or wages investigator, to Gibraltar. It is of immense credit to the workers of Gibraltar that they have been so patient. I hope that the Government will not continue with the procrastination to a point where it becomes a breaking point for the workers.

I am pleased to see something is being done about the housing problem. It is urgent. I read three or four weeks ago of an accident in Gibraltar to a person who was one of ten living in one room. Although the question of housing has been mentioned, I am wondering whether there is sufficient sense of urgency in Government Departments and in the Services about the need to deal with it without delay.

There are many other matters with which I have not time to deal, but I must ask that protection will be given to the fishermen of Catalan Bay. They are fighting a great fight against great odds to earn a living against Spanish fishermen. I will not say any more about it but there is a good story behind it. I am sure that the details must be known to the Secretary of State.

I wish Gibraltar had a representative in this House to put its case. He could do it very much better than I do. Nevertheless Gibraltarians should know that people here are taking an interest in their problems. They are very pleased that in recent weeks "The Times," the "Daily Mirror," another newspaper and the "Tribune" have put their case to the British public.

As I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall conclude by reading a very short letter which I have received from Gibraltar. It reads: In the name of many of the port workers and shipping clerks of Gibraltar, I write these lines to you to thank you for the interest taken in our local affairs at the House of Commons, and may God illuminate you in all your efforts and crown them with success. It is with that in mind tonight that, with all my limitations, I can but hope that I have made some useful contribution to putting their case before the House.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I am sure that not only the gentleman who wrote that letter, but the Gibraltar Government and all Gibraltarians will be most grateful to the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Dodds) for having raised this subject tonight. He is on particularly sound ground in urging that attention should be given to these economic problems in Gibraltar before they become of too serious a character. I do not think it can be denied that Gibraltar's economic situation has deteriorated, and we have not to look far to see why.

To put it mildly, it is happening because General Franco and the Spanish Government are being unhelpful, but who are we, in Britain, to complain about Franco being unhelpful? In the last twenty years we have been pretty unfriendly and unhelpful to General Franco and his Government. I hold no brief for either General Franco or his Government, but I think it absurd that we should, for instance, welcome Tito and Yugoslavia to the United Nations organisation, yet refuse to allow Franco and Spain to belong to it. It seems equally absurd that we should welcome Yugoslavia as an associate of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and yet refuse to welcome Spain as an ally.

It is time that we in Britain re-examined our relationships with Spain. With all due deference, I should feel happier in many ways were the Foreign Secretary rather than the Secretary of State for the Colonies replying to the debate tonight, because it seems to me that it is our foreign policy rather than our colonial policy which is causing the difficulties for Gibraltar at present. The difficulties are caused by bad relationships, not between Gibraltar and Madrid, but between London and Madrid, but it is Gibraltar which is paying the cost of those bad relationships and suffering the penalty of having her trade diminished and curtailed.

I believe that with a little effort we could improve our relationship with Spain, and we should try to make that effort. If, on the other hand, Her Majesty's Government are unwilling to make that effort to improve our diplomatic relationships with Spain we must accept the consequences, which are that Gibraltar cannot possibly pay her own way and stand on her own feet. She will, therefore, require considerable financial assistance from this country. When the Secretary of State replies, I hope that he will be able to say that the Government have made up their mind one way or the other. The sooner we face the problem in Gibraltar the better for the Gibraltarians and this country as well.

10.29 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I am sure that the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) for raising this question tonight. While I do not altogether quarrel with many of the things he has said, I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) that I very largely share his view, in that we also have some responsibility in this matter in our relations with Spain.

The time was in earlier days in this House—although another generation has now come along—when every time I rose to speak I was halted with some cry which reminded me of the fact that I had supported General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It is not for me to remind the House of what might have been the consequences had the civil war in Spain gone the other way, and anyhow in such an attenuated House as this at such a late hour and on such a subject as this, which does not involve any party considerations, I do not want to remind hon. Members on both sides of the House of those particular quarrels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hex-ham is entirely right in reminding the House that this is a two-way traffic. We also have some obligations to the great country of Spain which is part of the family of nations in Europe and with whom we share many important historical precedents and hopes for the future.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Democratic nations.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am quite prepared to argue this matter, but it would reduce the remaining ten or twelve minutes of Parliamentary time in which I have to reply to this debate.

The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford who raised this question has done a very great service to the people of Gibraltar. I should like to thank both him and his Parliamentary colleagues for the work that they have done in putting forward in this House and elsewhere the problems that face Gibraltar. I am very conscious of my duties in this field and, as in so many other fields of a colonial kind, I also recognise, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, the difficulties that arise through international considerations.

Lately I paid a visit to Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman quite rightly has from time to time pressed me to pay a visit to Gibraltar. I have done so, but I do not regard that visit as being an entirely adequate one. There arose at that time a constitutional problem. He did not refer to it, and I will not take the time of the House in dealing with it in detail. I spent about thirty-six hours in Gibraltar almost entirely within the four walls of the Convent which, for the benefit of those who may not recognise the fact, is the Government House in Gibraltar. I did not have an opportunity of going outside and meeting at first hand the many other problems that face Gibraltar today.

I was in any case going to Gibraltar during October, but I went in particular, and I went rather earlier than I had intended, in order to try to deal with a particular constitutional problem. But I do not regard the fact that I went there for that purpose—and, I hope, helped to make that constitutional difficulty easier—as in any way discharging my promise to go to Gibraltar and spend adequate time in dealing with problems at first hand.

I hope that my friends in Gibraltar will regard my visit a few weeks ago as merely one to deal with a problem that arose along the road, and not in any way as discharging my promise to go there and see at first hand the many things that need investigating by the Secretary of State in person.

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford for the continuous interest that he has shown in this problem, for the interests of Gibraltar are our interests, and every time I am questioned by the hon. Member on this matter I hope he regards me not as being resentful but rather as welcoming the fact that he is drawing attention to the joint and common interest in many problems that Gibraltar and this country possess.

There is the problem of houses which is of the first importance. I saw very few of them during my brief visit. There is the problem of relations with Spain, and in this field I was very impressed by the general recognition of the fact that the future of Gibraltar can be much better protected if we are on good terms rather than bad terms with Spain. There are also the problems of port development, hospitals, water, electricity and tourism.

In regard to the matter which we all regard as of first importance, the problem of port development, I should like to assure the hon. Member and all concerned that I regard the port development of Gibraltar as a fundamental issue for them and for us. Last Wednesday I told the hon. Member that the Governor is considering a report from the Port Development Committee, and I am awaiting his recommendation in that matter. Of the money we have put forward under colonial development and welfare funds for the future development of Gibraltar some £300,000 has been allotted to port development.

Careful planning is essential in this field. I do not want any hon. Member to feel when I say that that I am in any way trying to suggest that we ought to find a way of not promoting this particular project but escaping from its obligations. I spent a long afternoon with the Port Development Committee in Gibraltar. I am extremely anxious that we should find a method of meeting the obvious needs of Gibraltar in this connection. When I was Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation I had the advice of Sir Eric Millbourn as ports adviser. It was most valuable advice to me and his advice is now open to me and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. I am very anxious that through no fault of the Government there should not De any hold up or delay in a really rapid approach to the problems in regard to port development. The deep-water development of the harbour and port of Gibraltar is a matter of the first importance, as also is the Admiralty oil fuelage store.

All of us interested in this most important problem have read the report of the consulting engineers. I am very ready to tell the House at the appropriate moment of the further stages in consultation in regard to this problem. We are deeply anxious, not only to promote the development of the port of Gibraltar, but also, as far as possible, to render Gibraltar less and less dependent on the economy of Spain.

In the course of my very brief visit, which was far too short to do all I wanted and intended to do, I had the opportunity of meeting a great number of people. From time to time the hon. Member, quite rightly, has asked me fifteen Questions since he was a member of the Parliamentary Delegation. He has asked me to meet as many people from Gibraltar outside official circles as I could. I met members of the Executive Council, of the Legislative Council and a great many others. I hope that I helped to calm over a certain temporary constitutional difficulty which arose in Gibraltar and have left behind me a feeling that we are anxious that the people who are most concerned in taxation or other problems should have a prior opportunity of identifying themselves with those particular issues.

I came away with the genuine feeling that there could be no part of the British Commonwealth where there is a greater feeling of loyalty and affection for the British Crown than there is in Gibraltar, and I would like to take this most welcome opportunity of re-affirming in this House, and to our fellow-citizens in Gibraltar, that their interests are our interests, that we regard their future as part of the future of the British Commonwealth, and that any insult to Gibraltar or any difficulty under which Gibraltar may suffer is an insult or difficulty for the United Kingdom as well. They need have no doubt whatever that in all the difficulties which they have been through in the last 18 months, and through which in the future they may have to pass, the whole force and authority of our people and our Government, and I know of the Opposition as well, will be behind them.

They have many financial problems ahead. They must, from time to time, as we all have to do, face up to the problem of meeting their own financial obligations through their own realisable assets. One of the problems that took me to Gibraltar on the day I went was concerned with the problem of their own contribution. However, apart from that issue, we have no intention of allowing the development of Gibraltar to be in any way impeded by lack of funds, and if at any time the people of Gibraltar, having made their own proper contribution, find their future in jeopardy, they can rely without any doubt on the wholehearted support of Her Majesty's Government.

We re-affirm now, as we shall always do, that Gibraltar is part of the British Commonwealth, and a part that we value very deeply. We recognise the many difficulties under which our fellow citizens there labour and we hope that the time will come when their path will be easier as our joint interests are more and more recognised.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I think I carry with me all those in the House who are interested in the welfare of Gibraltar when I say how much we welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I think it is a most helpful statement, particularly if we discount the first two or three minutes of it. We propose to forget about that as we intend to forget about the past of the Minister himself. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one brief question about the financial problem of the resources of Gibraltar? Can he give an undertaking, in view of the present financial state of Britain and the Budget proposals, that there will be no curtailing of the financial expenditure on the development of Gibraltar?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, there certainly will not be. We have undertaken for the next five years that there should be spent £500,000 under the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund of which £300,000 will go for port development and £200,000 for housing. Quite apart from that, we have given a general undertaking that the general development of Gibraltar must not be prejudiced by any lack of funds. If at any time they find themselves in difficulty in regard to general development, having taken their proper share of responsibility, we shall stand behind them.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.