HC Deb 03 August 1965 vol 717 cc1472-99

1.22 a.m.

Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)

I wish to raise the subject of Gibraltar, which will be a little more serious and heavy than the topic we have just discussed, though I hope that we shall make more progress in solving the Gibraltar problem than, as far as I can see, we are likely to make in modernising the House, judging from what the rather lighthearted remarks which we have just heard implied.

I believe that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that I think there is real alarm in the House now at the state of affairs in Gibraltar and the way in which the people of Gibraltar are being subjected to a siege by the Government of Spain this summer. I think that tonight we should send out, regardless of party, a message of encouragement and good cheer from the House so that during the months when we are in recess the people of the Rock will know that the House of Commons is concerned about their fate and their future.

I want to try to do something at which many of us have been singularly unsuccessful up to now, and that is to speak briefly, which is one of the things which we would do if we had a modern Parliament. I therefore briefly state the facts. We know that the siege has been going on since just before Christmas. It has been one in which exit from Gibraltar has been denied to motor vehicles, except to the French—some strange kind of privilege which they have. As a result of this encirclement the income of Gibraltar has dropped by 40 per cent. and the tourist trade has virtually collapsed. Business in hire cars for self-drive has been completely ruined. The shopkeepers are now gravely financially embarrassed. Sir Joshua Hassan and Mr. Peter Isola of the Government of Gibraltar had to come to London to request assistance from Her Majesty's Government. I do not want to go into detail tonight about the amount of financial aid available—the £1 million from the Overseas Development Corporation over three years, the £100,000 to finance immediate needs and the £200,000 of Exchequer loans, which are contingent funds available. Other hon. Members may wish to go into the question of whether or not this sum is sufficient.

With regard to housing, I feel that, with the 500 people coming into Gibraltar from the Campo area, there will be a serious worsening of the housing waiting list, with genuine hardship for many Gibraltarians as a result. This House and the Government of this country should not get into a position in which we have totally to sustain the people of Gibraltar. We do not want the people of the Rock en masse to be on the dole. There are 25,000 people in Gibraltar, and we could easily maintain them within the financial resources of this country, but think of the effect if this "squeeze" continues on the morale of the people of Gibraltar if their elected representatives have to say, "The only way in which we can sustain you is through grants from London."

The people of Gibraltar will say, "What kind of Government are you to preside over our fortunes, that you can exist only on aid from the heart of the Commonwealth?" The Ministers of Gibraltar might lose public support and be forced to resign, as would the rest of the elected representatives, so that we should be back to direct Governor's rule in Gibraltar. We should preside over a reluctant, embittered, encircled community. General Franco would be able to say to the world, "Here is British colonial rule." He would be able to say in the United Nations: "This is a direct administration by the United Kingdom: there is no democracy in Gibraltar."

Therefore the vital factor which we should be considering in the coming months is not how much extra aid may be required by Gibraltar for specific problems like housing, although we may feel strongly about it. It is a question of what actions the Government of Spain will take to lift the barrier and make easy legitimate access by peaceful people from Gibraltar into the neighbouring territory of Spain.

It is not my task to go into my personal feelings about the present régime in Madrid. Those of us who were in the war remember what General Franco's attitude was then. He worked with Hitler and would not have been disappointed if Britain had lost. He did not go to the frontier of Spain to meet Hitler just for a honeymoon. He went there as an accomplice. But, as Hitler failed and his power receded, the Franco Government became a little more cautious. There was a proposal at one time that we should negotiate, in order to keep Spain neutral, the future of Gibraltar. A former Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, said that there could be no question of negotiations, because if we lost General Franco would take Gibraltar and if we won there would be no question of his having any right to it.

Many of us have personal friends in Spain, and we look forward to a period when there may be some Christian Democratic Government in Madrid. Therefore, I do not want to say anything tonight which would come between the people of Britain and the people of Spain.

Nevertheless, we have to admit that the Government in Madrid are responsible for this barrier at the frontier. Messages have been sent by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of Spain requesting them to negotiate on the matter—I should like to ask the Minister whether she can say what replies we have had from Madrid on the question of negotiation in the recent past, because if the Government of Spain and General Franco, regardless of his record—and I will not comment on that—are not prepared to negotiate, we must make things as uncomfortable for Spain as Spain is making things uncomfortable for the people of Gibraltar. Some ideas may be put forward on how this discomfort for the Government of Spain may be produced. I have one or two ideas. This should be said, because the Government in Madrid should realise that there comes a point when the patience of the British people and the democratic structure of this country will be strained no further. One can push it so far but no further.

For example, we might have a tax on Spanish citizens coming to this country, raising a sum which would go towards sustaining the people of Gibraltar and making up to them the loss which they have suffered from the frontier restrictions. Perhaps we might have a tax on goods coming into this country from Spain. That money, again, would go to help the people of Gibraltar. I do not favour the suggestion of a tax on British subjects going to Spain on holiday. I do not see why we should punish the British for what the Spaniards are doing on the Gibraltar frontier. Such a suggestion seems odd to me. Nor do I suggest that British tourists should stop going to Spain. There is no reason why the British and the Spanish people should not be friends, regardless of the activities of the Government in Madrid. We might perhaps limit the number of Spaniards coming into this country. I should be loth to do so.

If General Franco would negotiate, and if he would lift the frontier restrictions tomorrow, all these matters of retaliation would never arise. But the fact remains that the morale of the people of Gibraltar is sinking. I know that a number of hon. Members talked to the delegation which came to Britain this summer. The people of Gibraltar are asking, "What is Britain doing about this? How and when will this frontier restriction be lifted?" They do not want a lot of charity from Britain to be doled out to keep them alive in Gibraltar. They want the frontier restriction lifted or retaliatory action to be taken against the Government in Madrid.

If we do not get a satisfactory reply from Madrid about negotiations this summer, then action must begin. It is highly regrettable. Nobody likes to engage in acts which would harm individual Spanish people, who are certainly not the target of the displeasure of this country. The time has come for action. If we go on much longer we may have a slump in Gibraltar, with a collapse of support for the Gibraltar Government. We may find ourselves accused of colonialism, at the same time presiding over a bitterly disappointed people. This country has done a fine job in many corners of the world. Examples are independence for India and on actions in Africa. If we cannot guarantee the rights of this small Colony, the people of which are not Spanish but British and who have loyally supported this country throughout their history; if we cannot stand up for them and accept the fact that we shall lose a little money in trade with Spain; then I am afraid that we shall be judged harshly in Gibraltar, harshly in the United Nations and harshly among our friends everywhere.

1.35 a.m.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)

As at least 95 per cent. of what I shall say will be complimentary and complementary to what the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) said, I will, therefore, voice my only criticism of his speech at the outset of my remarks. I will then be able to support everything else he said.

It was a pity that he brought into his comments his personal feelings about the Spanish rôle during the last war, because I do not think that that was particularly helpful at this time. If we look back we can see many occasions when nations with whom we are now closely allied were once our enemies. When the hon. Gentleman spoke about Franco going to the border to meet Hitler, I recalled the time when Ribbentrop and Molotov met. I seem to remember that Russian oil was supplied to German bombers which flew over this country. As I say, it is not always helpful to hark back to the past and say what certain people did at certain times. I suggest that one might find past enemies in some most unsuspected quarters.

Having said that, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman generally on having raised this important subject. Having listened to our earlier debates for some hours—particularly our discussion of facilities for hon. Members—I was beginning to think that we had forgotten that we are an imperial, albeit not imperialistic, Parliament. As I say, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having initiated this debate, and I wish that I had had the chance of doing so. It does not matter about the lateness of the hour, because the people of Gibraltar will still know that we are interested in their future.

I agree with every word the hon. Gentleman said, apart from the criticism which I have expressed. As he pointed out, this is not just a question of cash. The people living on the Rock would not be impressed if they were given £1,000, £500,000,50 houses or 150,000 houses. I was there recently and I assure the House that a psychological problem is involved, amounting almost to claustrophobia. This is understandable when one considers that they have been penned up, so to speak, on the Rock with every form of humiliation being practised against them for many months, dating back to before last October.

I make that last remark to show that I do not wish to score any party political points on this issue. The hon. Gentleman said that the problem dated back to last December. In fact, it has gone on for much longer than that, with the tension mounting the whole time. A definite change of attitude on the part of the Spanish came at the time of the Monarch's last visit to Gibraltar. As I say, I have no wish to place the blame for the present situation anywhere and I never thought that it was wrong that the Monarch should, during her tour of the Commonwealth, visit Gibraltar, particularly since we all regard the Rock as one of the most loyal parts of the world to this country. Indeed, it would have been wrong had the Monarch not visited Gibraltar. I am merely pointing out that that gave an excuse to the Spanish to behave unreasonably, as they have done since. It can be said that that visit accentuated the prob- lem, although, as I say, it would have been wrong had Gibraltar not been included for a visit.

Having said that, it must be remembered that when the former Government were in office there was the Socialist argument over the frigates. That was not exactly helpful to the forming of opinion in Spain. Nor was the cancellation of the Royal Naval manoeuvres, because it is an historic fact that the Spanish Navy ranks among our best friends, irrespective of the Government in power in that country.

I do not want to allow this to develop into an argument about who is to blame for the present difficulties. It has been a steadily deteriorating situation, and the worst that anyone could do would be to try to solve the problem by being offensive to the Spanish Government, not because we should mind very much what the Spanish Government thought of us, but because we have to consider not what just we feel about it but what effect it will have on the people who have to live there. When I was in Gibraltar recently, the attitude of the average Gibraltarian was to say, in our party warfare context, "A plague on both your houses". They are only interesed in making sure that they and their legitimate interests are reasonably looked after as a loyal part of the British Commonwealth. They do not want to enter into the internecine party struggle in Britain about who is to blame for their problems.

I am sure that my hon. Friends on this side will agree that it has been our case all along that it would be a great pity to allow the situation to be the cause of a party argument. There is a genuine ground for agreement here that something more has to be done for Gibraltar than has been done by any Government, including the last one and the present one. It is not a matter of how much cash can be provided. There are 25,000 people on Gibraltar and, without even noticing it, the British public could provide every one of them with a substantial weekly income without any one of them having to do a day's work for the rest of his life.

There are 25,000 loyal and devoted people on a little piece of rock, unable to move freely as they are entitled to do and have done for a very long time. I shudder to think what would be the reaction of the average citizen of this country if he was suddenly told, quite unreasonably, that he could not move more than half a mile from his front door—not week after week, but month after month. It is almost claustrophobic. When I was in Gibraltar, I went down to the frontier on a Saturday night, and there I found crowds of people who simply wanted to go somewhere else in a taxi or a car to have a meal out, and they found that they could not do what any reasonable person in this country or elsewhere in the free world can do and go where they wanted, in human terms, for an evening out.

However, I believe that we shall not get very far by negative retaliation. In the end, we may have to retaliate, but I hope we will not.

The best way of proving to the Spanish that we will not concede to what is, in effect, bullying is not by retaliation. It is very difficult to think of effective retaliation, and that is going to be the problem, because ineffective retaliation gets one nowhere at all. We may have to do it, and it may be that we shall have to hurt ourselves, hurt the Spanish, and hurt the Gibraltarians by a form of tit-for-tat retaliation, but it should not be done unless we are driven to it, because it is not the best answer.

The best answer is to try to convince the Spanish that we never intend to give way over Gibraltar and that we shall provide the Gibraltarians with a normal life without their connection with Spain. One way of doing it would be to increase the number of tourists from this country going to Gibraltar on their way to Tangier. Another way would be to increase the provision for Gibraltarians coming to Britain. It has been announced that there is going to be a quota for Maltese coming to the country, but I was very disappointed to find that there is not to be a special quota for Gibraltarians to come.

In every possible way we must try to convince the Gibraltarians and the Spanish that, whatever the Spanish Government do, the people of Gibraltar are not going to be bullied or chivvied into a way of life that they do not want to adopt, and there are many ways in which we can do that without adopting purely tit-for-tat measures of retaliation.

There are many hon. Members on this side, including myself, who have sought over the years to get better relations with Spain, irrespective of its Government. At the moment, the Spanish Government are doing their very best to lose the best friends they have in this country, and that is where they are being singularly stupid. They already have plenty of enemies on the benches opposite, so they should not act so as to lose the friends they have on my side. In this rather anachronistic argument about the sovereignty of Gibraltar the Spanish Government are not being very clever, because if they persist they will, in the end, find that their friends are driven to say "All right, if they want to play it rough we, too, will play it rough." That would be a very great pity, and would not help anyone at all—

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

I have been following the hon. Member's argument with great interest. I wonder whether, from his own considerable experience of the subject, he feels that sufficient has been done through diplomatic channels to persuade the Spanish Government to adopt a more constructive attitude?

Sir F. Bennett

The hon. Member places great faith in my capacity to speak for Her Majesty's Government—a faith which I am sure Her Majesty's Government would not share. I am trying to avoid developing the argument on party lines, as I have said, but I would say that at the moment rather more could be done in this respect. I want to keep this debate on a more friendly level, but I do not think that Her Majesty's present Ministers are those best calculated, from their record, to receive the best and most friendly attention in Spain. Perhaps rather more could be done and should have been done before now; for past British Governments have decided that it is no good arguing about internal systems of Government, whether it be Yugo-Slav Communism or the system in Spain. It is up to us to live with each country and try to make the best arrangements we can with them, both economically and otherwise, and should not allow political feelings to enter into it.

Another reason for saying that Spain is being rather silly over this matter is that if she insists on this point—which really is the only one—that it is wrong for a foreign country, however legally well established, to have an enclave on her continental territory, she is automatically depriving herself of her own case for her enclaves on the African mainland. I do not think that it is sufficiently appreciated in Madrid that if Spain were to succeed in this present dispute over Gibraltar she would not keep Ceuta or Rio De Oro or the other enclaves, because every argument she now uses to try to get us out of Gibraltar applies to her own position on the African continent. We might even get a Committee of 24 there discussing her African enclaves. This is another reason for some sensible reassessment by the Madrid Government.

Looking beyond this silly and unnecessary quarrel, one sees the whole of Europe moving towards a closer link, whether within the Six or the Seven, or within an even wider entity. It is a little immature for European nations to indulge in this sterile argument about whether this or that sovereignty dates from the Treaty of Utrecht. Under present conditions, the people of Gibraltar want to maintain, and we must ensure that they do maintain, British sovereignty, but there is no reason why Gibraltar should not move from its present colonial status, not to semi-independence or autonomy but to a really close link with the British Isles, which is what the people of Gibraltar would want. What they would like is something approaching the status of the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. They want to get away from colonial status but not through self-government.

If I am to attribute any genuineness to the Spanish argument—and in this I think they have a good case—they are nervous, quite fairly, of a Gibraltar perhaps emerging as an independent state. Everyone knows that a rock with 25,0000 inhabitants cannot be an independent State but the Spanish, in a world of nationalism, are nervous. After all, they have heard "never, never" from British Governments about self-government for Cyprus, Malta and other places regarded previously as too small for independence but have seen them nevertheless be granted independence. They are right, therefore, to worry about the possibility of a State of Gibraltar ending up, perhaps, under hostile influences. If we thought that the Isle of Wight would end up independent with the possibility of coming under the influence of a hostile power we would get nervous.

Hence the way forward is to encourage the idea that Gibraltar has a special kinship with this country and that there is, therefore, no fear of such a thing happening there. When I was last in Gibraltar two weeks ago I did not meet one Gibraltarian who did not want the sort of solution I have outlined. If we adopted it, it would relieve the only genuine anxiety that the Spanish can possess. If we in Europe are moving to greater unity, I make the passionate plea that there is no reason why we should not seek such a solution as I have suggested, with special facilities for the Spanish in economic relations with Gibraltar. They have, after all, the right to be worried about the possibility of smuggling, for instance. There is no reason why Gibraltar should not be permanently part of the United Kingdom but with close ties with a reasonable Spain. There is no reason why Britain and the other countries of Europe, including Spain, should not join together in great unity when these narrow questions of sovereignty will not appear as important as they do now.

1.53 a.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I want to continue the debate on the non-partisan basis that has been established but at the same time to return to considering the 1939–45 period, which I have good cause to remember for rather different reasons from those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson), who referred to General Franco. I want to do so for constructive reasons.

We are not discussing Gibraltarians so much as we are discussing real friends. I hold the view—and I hope the House agrees—that friends who are friends when one needs friends are friends indeed, and that the people of Gibraltar very definitely fill that rôle. I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will keep that point in mind in her reply.

I must tell Her Majesty's Government that I have deep misgivings. This has been a year in which I have been in Gibraltar, spoken to the people there and have assessed the feelings of all sections. What these people, quite rightly, complain about now is that during the year Her Majesty's Government and the Spanish Government have never once come together. I am aware that there are some reservations on both sides, that apparently the Spanish Government are not prepared to talk unless it is on the question of sovereignty. I understand that we are not prepared to engage in talks until the restrictions at the border are removed. This is a dog-in-the-manger attitude by both Governments. The parties ought to sit down together to see what can be hammered out.

It is not only the people of Gibraltar who are suffering. Anyone with experience of the area knows that the whole of the Costa del Sol is suffering similarly. I have reason to believe that 50 per cent. of the normal tourist trade in the area has suffered during the year, from La Linea down as far as Malabar and San Roque, with consequent reductions in standards of living.

It may be said that this area has never mattered to General Franco until now. Whether that is true or not, it should matter to Her Majesty's Government, and it is time that they did rather more than have these intermediary exchanges and that the two Governments met at the conference table to discuss the area.

It should be remembered that this affair has now lasted a year, a year of siege for these people. As the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said, these people are almost isolated on the Rock. As I have said before, they are suffering from a form of geographic claustrophobia. One has only to live there to appreciate what that means. It is said that there is a desire to get out, but to where? The only outlet is to Spain, and that outlet is now closed.

I fear that there may be some ugly uprising among these people in a short time unless something tangible is done to give them hope that their problems will be fully discussed. When the issue means so much to those concerned, why has not a senior Minister actively participated in the dispute? The Colonial Secretary recently had an outstanding success when he visited certain Arab States with complex problems. I am not sure that he would have more power than his juniors, but if he went to Gibraltar and made his personal overtures to Spain, that would have a tremendous effect on the people of Gibraltar. I have already said that they are not so much Gibraltarians as our friends and they are entitled to such treatment and I have some misgivings because they have not yet received it.

I do not want to detain the House, for this subject has been discussed for so long that it would be very difficult to find anything new and constructive to say about it. However, I appeal to the Government to demonstrate to Spain our allegiance to these people by not applying to them the new immigration laws. For them there should be a far greater degree of liberalisation because of their geographical isolation.

I feel deeply about this subject because I know that these people are bonded to these islands, and I am not sure that we have demonstrated reciprocal feelings. For that reason, I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough has initiated this debate. I hope that it will be further tangible evidence that we have not forgotten the people of Gibraltar. I hope that the Minister will say those things which will mean so much to the people of Gibraltar, because I am certain that they need and deserve them.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

Having spent 16 years in the Royal Marines, I have known the Rock fairly well. I am therefore particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) for initiating this debate at a period which obviously is very critical for the future of Gibraltar.

In my speech, I shall be bound to say things which may be interpreted as an attack on Spain and unkind to Spaniards. I regret this as I have always regarded myself as a friend of Spain. Anyone who served in the Neutrality Patrol during the Spanish Civil War and had the opportunity, as I had, of going behind the lines into "Red" Spain at that time will realise what a debt the Spanish people owe to their leader for ridding Spain of the bestiality of red Communism and freeing them from the scourge of war since the end of that fratricidal struggle. The fact that he kept Spain out of the Second World War may not have helped us, but it was certainly in the interests of the Spanish people.

Over the years ever since the Spanish Civil War there has been what can only be described as a phobia among certain members of the Labour Party over the Spanish Government. This is probably one of the reasons for the blockade which may not be lifted until the Government here changes. Hon. Members opposite, if they are fair, will realise that certain members of their party—not the whole party—have had a phobia on this subject ever since the Civil War and this must have an effect on relations between Her Majesty's Government and Spain.

Mr. Dan Jones

We have tried to keep this debate on a strictly non-party basis. If we are to help these people, we must try so to do. May I remind the hon. Member that these overtures took place long before the present Government were in office and that that should be kept in mind?

Mr. Wall

I was not referring to the present Government, but to what I describe as a phobia which has existed for the last 30 years among some members of the Labour Party which has led to a deterioration of relations between members of the party and the Spanish Government.

I want to raise two points in this debate. One concerns the constitution, the other positive assistance to Gibraltar. One of the keys to the present situation is the 1964 constitution, which installed for the first time an elected Chief Minister and Ministers in Gibraltar. The Gibraltar Council became the executive body of Gibraltar, which consisted of the Governor, four ex-officio members, the Chief Minister and four elected members. The White Paper issued by Her Majesty's Government said: The Gibraltar Council is responsible for general direction and control of government of Gibraltar subject to the powers of Her Majesty's Government and the Governor. Logically, the next step, if Gibraltar was to follow the same progress as other colonial possessions of this country, would be a wholly elected Council with the Chief Minister in the chair. So it would gradually progress as Malta and other Colonies have done, to complete independence. I echo the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), who pointed out that the Spaniards have a genuine fear that the present constitution of Gibraltar is not the end of the road. The end of the road, if the precedent were followed, would be independence for Gibraltar. We know that this is not the intention of any party in this country, and is never likely to happen because it is not the wish of the people of Gibraltar. There is no positive guarantee of this. I think that they have a justified fear, and therefore I believe that it is essential to give Gibraltar a new constitution which would provide a final solution to this problem—a solution other than independence.

I believe that there are two possibilities. One is integration with this country and the other is, as has already been suggested, and as I suggested in the last debate we had on Gibraltar, a constitution such as the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man. Very briefly I would like to remind the House of what that means. Integration would leave Gibraltar with full internal self-government, maintaining their own legislative assembly, but would probably mean representation of one or more individuals at Westminster. It would inevitably mean United Kingdom income tax, as well as, presumably, United Kingdom social services. It would mean administration through the Home Office. Although it sounds relatively simple I think, when it is looked into, certain snags became apparent, income tax being one.

The other alternative seems to be the best, and I would like to remind the House of the administration of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The citizens of these islands are citizens of the United Kingdom Islands and Colonies. They are not just citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. They have a special status. They are administered by the Home Office, and not by the C.R.O. or Colonial Office. The United Kingdom conducts their foreign affairs and defence, and in the Isle of Man, their Customs. But they have their own legislative assemblies, and their own system of local administration. The laws of these islands depend for their validity on Orders made by the Queen in Council. Their legislature can therefore be said to consist of the Sovereign, the Privy Council and the local legislative assembly acting jointly.

I understand that the Lieutenant Governor is the personal representative of the Sovereign and is also the official channel of communication between the United Kingdom authorities and the Island authorities. I believe that this form of government would be very suitable to Gibraltar, would obviate the difficulties of having representation in Westminster, would also obviate the necessity of having a British income tax, and would provide a final solution to the constitutional future of the Rock, a solution which would endure as long as has the independent Government of the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man.

The last point I want to raise is the whole question of assistance. Her Majesty's Government have given generous assistance to Gibraltar; £1 million spread over three years from the C.D. and W. funds, £200,000 Exchequer loan, if required, to assist the Gibraltar Government, and the special grant of £100,000 for budget aid this year. These are assisting the Government of Gibraltar not only in balancing their budget, but in creating new housing and other schemes for the benefit of the people of Gibraltar. But they do not assist the trader, the man running a shop, the merchants, the taxi-driver.

These people cannot be assisted by Government aid. They can only be assisted by restoring Gibraltar to its normal conditions, when trading and tourism can continue uninterrupted. I believe, if we are to continue to rely, as we have in the past, on the loyalty of the people in Gibraltar, we must show them open and positive support. There have been a number of suggestions made. One has been the recall of Her Majesty's Ambassador in Madrid, another has been the imposition of tariffs on Spanish imports, and the additional amount of money being used to defray the additional costs in Gibraltar. Another suggestion is the control over the landing of Spanish aircraft at British airports, or the blocking of part of the pay of Spanish workmen, which is earned in Gibraltar. Personally I would regret that, because I think it would be a punishment imposed on the Spanish workmen, who are doing a very good job, for themselves, their own country and for Gibraltar.

There could be a campaign to check British tourism in Spain. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torquay suggested, the whole question of Spanish colonies in Africa, which seems to have been overlooked by the Committee of 24, could be brought to the attention of the United Nations. I regret having to make these suggestions because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay, I do not want to pick a quarrel with Spain, but Spain has herself initiated this quarrel, and I believe that we must show the world that we are prepared to share the consequences of the blockade, and not merely to pay for them. In other words, Gibraltar's trade is being demolished and I believe that our trade should take its share of this punishment. If by putting tariffs on Spanish imports our trade suffers, then I believe that it is the right contribution that we should make. A recent incident in Gibraltar, in which, I believe, my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay was involved, started because French tourists were turned back from the Gibraltar—Spanish frontier. They resisted by sitting in the road. A little later the French Consul got in touch with Paris and President de Gaulle made a direct request to Madrid. The next day the people were allowed through in their cars. This shows that positive, forceful action pays off.

Spain knows full well that we will never give up Gibraltar as long as the people of Gibraltar remain loyal to this country but the Spanish Government believe, that the blockade may well weaken the will of the Gibraltarians and, therefore, their loyalty to this country and that next time, whenever it may be, five or ten years hence, a similar incident might finally lead to Britain agreeing to cede the sovereignty of Gibraltar because the people of Gibraltar were fed up with the continuance of these appalling conditions.

It is, therefore, immensely important for this House to demonstrate our full loyalty to Gibraltar. We cannot deserve or expect that loyalty unless we are prepared to be loyal to the Gibraltarians. This does not only mean helping them with cash, but it means positive action to demonstrate our common association with Gibraltar in her hour of travail. I hope that when the Minister replies, she will tell us what positive action the Government intend to take if the Spanish Government continue to refuse to come to the negotiating table, which, obviously, is the answer that we all desire to achieve.

2.12 a.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) has taken the opportunity to raise again the problem of Gibraltar. The hon. Member put the case well and briefly and I certainly do not want to go over the facts again. For several months, however, the Government have been under gradually increasing pressure, both in this House and outside, to act effectively on behalf of Gibraltar. In this House, both sides have been patient, and certainly the people of Gibraltar have been very patient, because we have all known the difficulties, but nine months have now passed and nothing really effective has yet been done.

Significantly, the pressure now is from all three political parties; from the Front and back benches of the Conservative Party, from the back benches of the party opposite and from the Liberal Party, too. Adjournment debates have been initiated from both sides of the House and literally dozens of Parliamentary Questions have been addressed to the Prime Minister, the Colonial Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Overseas Development, all put by hon. Members who have been to Gibraltar and who have seen for themselves the serious and distressing effect which the Spanish blockade has inflicted upon the economy of Gibraltar.

An all-party group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has now been formed under the Chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), himself your Deputy Chairman, Mr. Speaker, of the United Kingdom branch, supported as officers by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and myself.

What is much more important is that in Gibraltar there has been increasing frustration and disillusionment, culminating in the large public demonstrations not long ago and in the formation of a National Government to press the case of Gibraltar upon, no doubt, sympathetic but certainly, so far, inactive British Ministers. I do not like having to say that to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. I have great faith and confidence in the hon. Lady; she is an extremely intelligent and a very good Minister—I hope that in paying her this tribute I do not embarrass the hon. Lady—and on this issue I know her heart is in the right place. Nevertheless, nothing effective has been done.

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, his deputy and other prominent Ministers and businessmen have been here again and again to plead for help. That is all they can do. Because, of course, Britain is directly and immediately responsible for the foreign affairs and the defence of the Rock, and ultimately for its trade, economy and living standards as well.

The response of Her Majesty's Ministers has really been, I think, a little pathetic. After nine months of ineffective diplomatic protests to Spain and repeated assurances to Gibraltar that we would defend her interests there has last been an offer, I think quite a good offer, of financial aid, but that really, in this context, is only a palliative. No action whatever has been taken against Spain, and no real attempt has been made to change the policy of the Spanish Government.

Even worse—and this is the point I very much want to impress upon the hon. Lady—there have been repeated public statements from the Government Front Bench—I do not think by her, but certainly by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office—that the Government do not intend to take any action at all. "No reprisals" is the parrot cry. But why not? If persuasion and protest have not raised the Spanish siege of this loyal little Colony why should reprisals be automatically ruled out?—without even a warning to Spain of the retaliatory measures which are open to us, and there are many. To say publicly to Spain that we shall do nothing—and it has been said from the Treasury Bench—is an open invitation, it seems to me, to Spain to continue her present policies.

I really must say this to the Government. If they will not defend the interests of Gibraltar, at least let them not shout their tepid irresolution from the house tops. It simply plays into the hands of the Spanish Government. They know now, from all they have heard from Ministers of this Government, that they can get away with virtually anything. They know their claim to have isolated the whole Gibraltar issue from the context of Anglo-Spanish relations has in fact succeeded. It is a sad and humiliating state of affairs.

Indeed, it is rather worse than that. If the Government continue to do nothing, I believe—it has been said before, by my hon. Friend—the disillusionment in Gibraltar will be complete, and anti-British as well as anti-Spanish feeling will begin to develop on the Rock and then the Government of Gibraltar may well have to resign. If that happens we shall be forced to return to direct colonial rule by a British Governor—What a position for the Labour Government of Britain to find themselves in! What an embarrassment in the United Nations! I hope that if the Government dare not defend Gibraltar they will at least wish to defend themselves against the criticism of world opinion.

What action could the British Government take, if they wanted to take any action at all? I do not suggest at this moment we should withdraw our Ambassador from Madrid, although this should not be absolutely ruled out if Spain's policy persists for much longer. I do not suggest at this moment that we should reduce the amount of currency available to British tourists to Spain, although that would bring Spain to her senses more quickly, I believe, than almost anything. I do not suggest at this moment we should restrict Spanish imports into Britain, although I believe we may have to consider that very seriously—

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Why not?

Mr. Fisher

—if there is no change in Spanish policy in the very near future.

I do say there are a number of smaller measures which would at least show Spain that we are taking this issue seriously. We could—I admit it is a sacrifice more for Gibraltar than by us—limit the number of Spanish workers entering Gibraltar, or refuse access to all Spanish workers, so long as the frontier restrictions continue. There is no reason why restrictions should be a one-way traffic. I think we could find workers from Tangier and perhaps Portugal to replace the Spanish. Alternatively, we could refuse to allow Spanish workers to take their Gibraltar earnings, or a proportion of them, out of Gibraltar. Their money is earned in Gibraltar and it is perfectly fair to say that at least part of it should be spent there. We could refuse entry to Britain of holders of Spanish passports so long as discrimination against Gibraltar passports continues. These are not major reprisals, but they would at least show Spain that we are in earnest, and this is what I want to get over. They should—and this is most important of all—be accompanied by a stern and genuine warning that there is more, much more, to follow if these do not produce results. My main complaint is that the Government not only do not warn Spain publicly, but they say, in effect, "We are not going to do anything, so you can carry on".

It was always thought—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned this—that Spain's friends in Britain were only to be found in the Tory Party, and indeed we want, and have always wanted, to have friendly relations with Spain; but not at any price. Not at the price of the people of Gibraltar. After all, it was a Labour Government who objected to selling Spain the frigates, and who cancelled the naval manœuvres. But now it is a Labour Government of Britain who dare not say "Boo" to the Spanish goose.

Talk about appeasement of Hitler! At least Germany was a mighty world power threatening world war, but to have to appease Spain … We never did that at the very peak of Spanish prestige in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. To do it in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is not only betraying the people of Gibraltar, it is humiliating to the people of Britain.

2.21 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mrs. Eirene White)

I think that we would all like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) for having raised this subject, not for the first time, in this House and thus displaying his continuing interest in the problem. It has brought forth, even at this hour of the morning, some extremely interesting speeches and a very eloquent peroration from the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher).

It is very interesting to note that on this subject of Gibraltar we do, by and large, cut across party lines, and that there is very deep concern on both sides of the House, as has been shown in our debates, and as the hon. Member for Surbiton reminded us, in the recent formation of a group under the general aegis of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which I am sure is very much welcomed in Gibraltar, as it has been welcomed here at Westminster.

The formation of this group will be of particular comfort to the new governor, and I think that it would be appropriate on this occasion to remind the House that there is about to be a change of governor in Gibraltar. Sir Dudley Ward, who has had a difficult period of office, will be leaving on the 16th of this month, and his successor, General Sir Gerald Lathbury, will arrive in Gibraltar aboard H.M.S. Eagle on the 28th of this month. There will be a very short interregnum. I think that this will be acceptable to everyone, and I am sure that we all wish General Sir Gerald Lathbury well, and hope that very early in his tenure of office we shall see some solution to this problem.

I do not want to be political, because I think that that would be against the general spirit of the debate, but there have been one or two political remarks, and I do not think that I can accept the taunt that this Government have done too little in nine months when, after all, the Government who preceded us did not solve the problem of Spain and Gibraltar in nine years. As the hon. Gentleman knows—he was my predecessor in the Colonial Office—there is correspondence there of twelve months ago on this very subject of the awkwardness of relations between Spain and Gibraltar. I agree that the situation was nothing like as intense as it is now, but to pretend that the preceding Government managed in nine months to solve the difficulties from 1954 onwards is unreal. They did not begin to solve them within two years, and they had not completely solved them at the end of nine years. I had to make this point in reply because we have been taunted with something which is not entirely fair when one considers past history.

I am content to leave it at that, because I grant immediately that the present situa- tion is much more serious, in the sense that it affects to a much greater degree the life and commerce and wellbeing of Gibraltar. It was for this reason that we were particularly glad to have this recent opportunity of discussions with the Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan, and his deputy, Mr. Peter Isola, of the Coalition Government. The House may be interested to hear the message that we received from them after their return to Gibraltar. It was from Sir Joshua to my right hon. Friend and it said: Now that we have returned to Gibraltar Isola and I would like to express our appreciation of the courteous, helpful and frank way in which you and all Ministers and officials treated us and our problems. We were naturally particularly grateful for the opportunity to see the Prime Minister. We have reported to our colleagues on our visit and would like on their behalf to thank Her Majesty's Government for the financial help and technical aid which … has been promised to us. We fully recognise that money is not everything, but to pretend that money does not help, or is of no consequence—as seemed to be suggested by the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett)—

Sir F. Bennett

The last thing I want to do is to interrupt the hon. Lady when she is saying so much with which I agree, but that remark is not fair. I said that money generosity was one thing, but that this was not what was concerning the people of Gibraltar. However generous we are, we cannot buy the loyalty of people who have already given their loyalty to us.

Mrs. White

I appreciate that. I suggest, however, that money can help. I am not speaking now just of the immediate budgetary assistance to help with the extra expenses incidental to this crisis, but the very substantial sum—for a population the size of Gibraltar—of £1 million in development aid. That is a real, constructive help to Gibraltar in meeting this new situation. It is true that even though, as we all hope and trust, we find a way of resolving this completely unnecessary quarrel with Spain, Gibraltar remains geographically vulnerable, and it is important to build up its economy as far as possible.

I was particularly glad to have the opportunity recently of talking to one of a team which has been engaged by the Government of Gibraltar, with financial assistance from the Ministry of Overseas Development, in working out an intelligent plan for the best possible use of the land space, general resources and potential tourist attractions of Gibraltar itself, because Gibraltar has so far been regarded by tourists merely as a gateway to other places. Although I fully appreciate that there are geographical limitations in a place of this size, I am convinced—as is everybody who has been there—that a good deal more can be done, with imagination, to develop the facilities of the Rock itself.

I was glad to have an opportunity of speaking to a member of the team—the very well-known architect, Mr. Maxwell Fry. He and the other members will produce an imaginative and exciting plan for Gibraltar. Its report is to the Government of Gibraltar, but we hope to see it in about October. It is very important that we should encourage Gibraltar in the idea that it should improve its own resources and make itself as self-supporting as possible.

Furthermore, we were glad that on their visit to London the Chief Minister and his colleague saw not only Government officials but also commercial and tourist interests, and that they have arranged a very important visit from the National Association of Chambers of Commerce in the autumn. I was glad, on making inquiries on the tourist side, to find that British European Airways is taking two groups of travel agents to Gibraltar, one in September and one in November, to study the potential there and take advantage of the fact that from Gibraltar one can fly north or south.

They will be looking particularly at the possibility of developing tourism with North Africa, using Gibraltar as a base, or combining a brief stay in Gibraltar with going across to Tangier and Morocco. If hon. Members will look at forthcoming brochures published under the auspices of B.E.A. they will find that there are proposals of this kind. It seems to me, therefore, that although we are perfectly well aware that this is not the full solution by any manner of means—that can only be achieved if we reach a sensible agreement with Spain—these should be admitted as being important both for themselves and for morale.

The question of immigration has been mentioned and the treatment of Gibraltar for this purpose. We by no means rule out the possibility of this but it was not a strong talking point with our friends in Gibraltar because naturally we hope that there will be some improvement there and it will not be in their best interest to encourage the best, enterprising people to leave the Rock while there are the possibilities of developing their own facilities. Gibraltar with its qualifications would be eligible to come in under the arrangements announced by the Leader of the House the other day, but at the moment we do not feel that this is an immediate issue.

It might become an issue later on if we found that all our other efforts failed but at the moment we do not wish to encourage the idea that one should leave Gibraltar unless one otherwise wished to do so. This is not ruled out, but at this point of time it would not be in the best interest of Gibraltar to encourage this thought. We want to encourage Gibraltarians to develop their own resources, and they will need energy and enterprise for that.

As for tourism, it is perfectly true that the total air traffic going to southern Spain from this country has declined. We have no means of telling what the traffic may be from the north moving south direct, but the combined air traffic through Gibraltar and Malaga has declined by one-third compared with last year and it therefore appears that there has already been some resistance on the part of tourists to going to Spain. At the moment we take no particular steps to discourage tourists from going to Spain but the end of the present tourist season is approaching and if it proves impossible to get any alleviation of the situation on the frontier it will have to be seriously considered.

When arrangements are being made by tourists agencies and people themselves for next season we might have to ask them to consider seriously whether or not it is in the general interest that they should take their holidays in that part of the world. We have not quite reached that point yet because we are still hoping that we may have some sensible conversations about this, but it is interesting that, without our taking any particular action, except for remarks by myself, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) and the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), all made with a consensus of opinion on this point. People have been drifting away of their own accord.

On the major political questions which are the nub of all this, I was interested in the suggestion made by more than one hon. Member that we should seek a final solution of the Gibraltar problem on the lines of a Channel Islands relationship. The Secretary of State for the Colonies recently held a conference in Oxford to consider precisely this sort of problem in relation to the remaining dependent territories in general. This was one of the solutions which was suggested for one or two places, of which, hypothetically, Gibraltar could be one. Whether this is what Spain wants is another matter.

The difficulty is that, unless we can have proper talks with Spain, we cannot even find out whether this sort of solution, which might have certain attractions, is the kind of solution which might satisfy Spain. If people will not talk, one cannot find out what is in their minds and what their difficulties are. One Minister after another has said at this Box that we have no intention whatsoever of pursuing a course leading to independence for Gibraltar, because we do not think that, in these circumstances, it has any validity. The Gibraltarians have never asked for it: they recognise their situation.

I and my colleagues have said that Malta is no analogy. When one says this and means it, one hopes it will be accepted. It is very difficult when one says these things and they are not accepted.

We should like to have the opportunity of discussing with Spain real and not bogus issues. Her Majesty's Government—this is a matter for the Foreign Office—have made it clear already, and we have informed the Spanish authorities, that we have at no time wished to insist on preconditions for conversations in a way which would prevent those conversations from starting. We feel that we have been entirely reasonable in all this and that it is up to the Spanish Government, if they want to reach a civilised solution, at least to come and talk and let us see whether we can work out any sort of sensible arrangement.

I hope that after this period, when it is plain—as our recent offer of assistance has emphasised—that we have no intention of weakening on Gibraltar, and that we shall sustain Gibraltar but that this is not really a sensible solution, the Spanish Government will be prepared to have talks with us. We cannot go further than that at the moment.

We have so far—I repeat, "so far"—resisted taking retaliatory measures. In fairness to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, I would draw attention to what he actually said in the general debate on foreign affairs on 19th July. Referring to suggestions that a policy of retaliation should be adopted, he said that he did not think that, at present—and he repeated the words, "at present"—it would be the appropriate way to help the people of Gibraltar. About seven or eight lines further on, again he used the phrase, "in present circumstances".

I should not like the House, or, through the House, the Spanish Government, to be misled—I am sure unintentionally—by the hon. Member for Surbiton in saying that we had suggested that there was no possibility of this. I merely put this right for the record.

Mr. Fisher

I was not referring to the speech in the foreign affairs debate. I was referring to the Minister of State's speech in the last Adjournment debate on Gibraltar, when those covering words were not used. I am very glad that he is learning and being influenced by the hon. Lady. I think those qualifying words are very important, because we must not let it go out to Spain that we shall never take any action.

Mrs. White

I am quoting from the latest text, of 19th July. I hope that the House will be satisfied with that.

We are extremely grateful for the interest taken by hon. Members in all parts of the House in this very difficult situation. We have said that we should like to find a friendly and reasonable solution, and the Spanish Government would be well advised to pay attention to what was said from the benches opposite as well as from this side of the House that by continuing this policy they are very seriously endangering their store of good will in Great Britain. We hope that they will not press us to the point at which any overt action would have to be taken to make these views clearer.

Mr. Dan Jones

May I have one point clarified? My hon. Friend said that at the moment the Spanish Government will not talk. Do we understand that offers have been made to the Spanish Government by Her Majesty's Government to sit down and discuss the problem but that those offers have not been accepted?

Mrs. White

Those offers have not as yet been taken up.