HC Deb 15 July 1965 vol 716 cc753-5
4. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement about political and economic help to Gibraltar.

10. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what political and economic measures he now proposes to take in order to implement the undertaking in Command 2632 that Her Majesty's Government will defend and sustain the people of Gibraltar.

Mrs. White

My right hon. Friend and I will be meeting the Chief Minister of Gibraltar next week and hope it will be possible for a statement about further help to be made after our meeting.

Mr. Wall

Will the hon. Lady consider doing something positive to help Gibraltar? Would she consider recalling our Ambassador or putting a surcharge on Spanish imports into this country and using the proceeds to help the Gibraltar economy? Gibraltar wants something positive and not just talk.

Mr. Fisher

Would the hon. Lady agree that, when the Prime Minister told me in the House recently that the Government are defending and sustaining the interests of the people of Gibraltar, this was not the truth and that, because it was not the truth, the people of Gibraltar are now becoming increasingly disillusioned by all these promises which are never accompanied by performance? Could the hon. Lady tell the House precisely what the Government are doing both to restore the economy of Gibraltar by way of aid and also, politically, to defend the interests of the people which the Prime Minister said the Government were doing?

Mrs. White

On the question of aid, the hon. Gentleman will, of course, appreciate that until the Overseas Development and Service Bill is fully enacted one cannot make formal announcements of aid. We are discussing this matter with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar next week. It will be more appropriate to have those discussions with him before making announcements of detailed allocations in the House.

On the other matters, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, so far, we have decided, in the best interests of Gibraltar, not to take the retaliatory action which would undoubtedly give some emotional satisfaction in Gibraltar but might not necessarily, at this time, be in their best interests. In this reply, in the House recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that this is not an absolute position by any means. One has to judge the situation as it appears at the time.

Mr. Crawshaw

While hon. Members on both sides of the House appreciate that these talks will help, would my hon. Friend bear in mind that the more reasonable our attitude appears to be in this matter the more provocation we seem to receive? It may be that the time is now arriving when the only way to help the people of Gibraltar is to take a very firm stand by hitting the Spanish Government in their pocket, where it hurts most.

Mrs. White

To get the record straight, there has been no intensification of restrictions since March, as far as the people of Gibraltar themselves are concerned. [Interruption.] I am aware of that. I want to make it clear that there has been no worsening of the situation, tiresome as it is for all concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "There has been no improvement."] I agree that there has been no improvement except in so far as people going to and from Tangier are being allowed free entry and exit at the frontier. We fully sympathise with the people of Gibraltar. [HON. MEMBERS: "Words!"] I think that after the talks next week there will be considerable assistance to Gibraltar to be reported to the House, but it is better to discuss this with the Ministers of Gibraltar first.

Mr. Sandys

Does not the hon. Lady realise that sympathy is not enough and that the people of Gibraltar feel that they have been very badly let down by the British Government? Will she consider what I asked for the other day—either taking action or making a full statement to the House as to what are the courses which the Government have considered and why they have rejected them?

Mrs. White

I keep insisting that it is not only a question of sympathy. We are making proposals to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar for very substantial aid, but I repeat that it is not proper to discuss that until we have discussed it with him.

Mr. Thorpe

Would the hon. Lady not agree that the formation of a coalition Government in Gibraltar is clear evidence of the united determination and the spirit of unity on the Rock at the moment? Would she not agree that it is disgraceful that, whilst the income of the Rock has been cut by nearly 40 per cent. by the activities of Spain, the Spanish workers who now take £50,000 a week out of the Rock are not allowed to spend one penny of that money in sterling? It must all be changed into pesetas so that the Spanish authorities can get the maximum amount of hard currency for the Spanish account. Is there not a case for considering a limit on the amount of sterling which the Spanish workers can take out? Would she not agree that at least £2 million is needed for housing problems in Gibraltar, without even touching the condition of the 600 refugees who are living in emergency conditions? When are the Government going to do something?

Mrs. White

In regard to the position of the Spanish workers, one has to look at this in the totality of the needs of Gibraltar. One could withdraw the whole lot of Spanish workers by refusing them egress, but whether that would be in the best interests of the economy of Gibraltar at this time is another matter.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.