HC Deb 18 June 1965 vol 714 cc1150-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. George Rogers.]

4.4 p.m.

Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)

I welcome the opportunity of raising this afternoon the problem of the difficulties which exist and have existed for some time past on the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that this matter has been raised in the House in recent months on more than one occasion, and has also been the subject of discussion in the other place. The fact is, however, that the problem remains with us and, on the whole, continues to worsen. It is therefore necessary that from time to time the problem should be raised here and not lost sight of.

There are certain simple basic facts relating to this matter. Gibraltar has been under British rule for more than 250 years and there is ample evidence that the people of Gibraltar are unanimous in their desire to continue and to strengthen their close association with Britain. Both the people of Gibraltar and the people of this country earnestly desire friendship with Spain, with which country and its people for long periods of history we have enjoyed, and we still wish to enjoy, friendly relations, and if these difficulties relating to the Gibraltar frontier can be overcome there is no reason at all why the friendship with Spain in former years, which is now temporarily destroyed by this matter, should not be fully renewed between us. But it must be recognised that friendship, after all, is a two-way traffic.

For some years past, and especially during the past 18 months, the Spanish Government have been pursuing a policy of increasing unfriendliness towards Gibraltar and its people. This campaign has included the following features: vehicles are delayed on the Spanish side of the frontier for as long as six hours or more, certain types of British passports are not recognised in Spain, Gibraltar Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition and other official persons in Gibraltar are not allowed to enter Spain at all, no matter what the point of entry or the type of passport held may be.

Some trivial matters relate to the stopping of certain simple traffics whereby in the past such things as communion wine for use in the Roman Catholic Churches in Gibraltar, oxygen for use in hospitals in Gibraltar and Christmas trees, which in the past have for many years been imported from Spain, are no longer allowed by the Spanish authorities to leave Spain and to come into Gibraltar. These are matters which are mean, petty and irksome in the extreme to the people of Gibraltar, and we in this country have a duty as the sovereign Power to do everything within our power to bring to an end the treatment of this kind of British people in the Gibraltar territory.

This senseless conduct by the Spanish Government is attempted to be justified by the Spanish authorities by certain inadequate and, to some extent, contradictory arguments. It is alleged that the conduct at the frontier is justified by smuggling, which, it is alleged, takes place from Gibraltar into Spain. Then it is alleged that constitutional changes affecting the internal government of Gibraltar have invalidated the provisions of the Treaty of 1713, and again it has been said by the Spanish Government that Gibraltar represents, in fact, part of Spanish territory and that these actions are part of a campaign to bring back the territory under Spanish rule. No doubt this latter point may be the main intention of the actions of the Spanish Government. But what they are doing has had and will have exactly the opposite effect to that which they desire to achieve.

Of course, these irritating restrictions and petty acts of ill will towards the people of Gibraltar have simply fortified them in their determination to remain under British sovereignty. I have no wish to say anything hurtful to Spain and her people beyond what is necessary in briefly introducing this debate. As I have said, there is overwhelming opinion in this country in favour, as far as possible, of friendly relations with the Spanish people. It should be recognised, in Spain and elsewhere that the people of Gibraltar enjoy, in their present country, and under their present constitution, democratic institutions, freedom of religion and a relatively high standard of living, none of which they are inclined to sacrifice.

There is no desire whatever on the part of any section of public opinion in Gibraltar to change British conditions and the British way of life for Spanish conditions and the Spanish way of life. I submit that our Government, this House and our people have a solemn responsibility to help Gibraltar and its people in all possible ways within our power in this very difficult and frustrating period through which Gibraltar is passing.

There are two main means by which our Government on behalf of this people can help to ameliorate and, I hope, bring to an end these intolerable difficulties. First of all, there is the constructive method of dealing with these difficulties, that is to say, by assisting in every way we can the development of tourism to Gibraltar, by giving as much aid as may be necessary to increase the amenities and tourist attractions of the territory, by helping Gibraltar to increase its housing accommodation and thereby increase its resident population and by giving the financial assistance which is needed to rebuild the economy of Gibraltar in the new circumstances of the territory, if we take the view that these conditions are likely to be of long duration.

A great deal is being done in this direction. I think that the Government are entitled to be congratulated for the efforts so far made along these lines. I am sure that a sense of urgency about this aspect of the matter will continue to be preserved. I suggest also that it may be necessary for sterner measures to be adopted. We must impress Spain and the present Government of Spain, beyond the possibility of any misunderstanding there, that these unfriendly acts towards Gibraltar cannot be condoned, tolerated or accepted by the people of this country. After all, we are the sovereign Power with responsibility for foreign relations in Gibraltar and we do less than justice to our duties if we leave the Spanish Government in any doubt of the serious view which we take of this matter.

I was recently in Gibraltar and I spent ten days there and saw as many people as I could in various walks of life, including the Chief Minister and other leaders of public affairs. There is a widespread impression among Gibraltarians that we have not done enough to impress upon the Spanish Government the importance and the seriousness which we attach to this matter.

We have made protests, we have published White Papers, but these have produced no valuable results. The tendency in fact, has been for conditions to grow worse rather than better as a result of the measures that have so far been taken. While I hope, as, I am sure, the whole House would hope, that we may be able to avoid taking more extreme measures in this matter, the Spanish Government should be made aware that there are powers that we can still exercise.

It is perfectly possible for us to cause Customs delays to Spanish visitors. It is open to us to discourage British tourists from visiting Spain. It is perfectly possible for our authorities to decline to recognise Spanish passports. It would be lamentable indeed if we were compelled to embark upon retaliatory action of that kind, and everyone would hope that it would not be necessary, but I feel that it should be made clear by the Government and by this House that there are limits beyond which our patience will not go and that the point will soon be reached, if it has not been reached already, when it will be necessary for stronger measures to be adopted.

I have the fear that the Spanish Government are labouring under the delusion that we do not mean business in this matter and I hope that a message can go out from this House today, from both sides, as there is, I am quite certain, no party angle in this matter, that we are prepared to take all such steps as may be necessary to put an end without much further delay to these irritating, vexatious and frustrating restrictions from which the people of Gibraltar are suffering.

Let us make that perfectly clear as a result of this debate today. I hope very much that the Minister of State will leave the people of Gibraltar in no doubt of the reality of our support and the Spanish Government in no doubt as to the seriousness of the view that we take.

4.18 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Walter Padley)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) on raising this matter and giving us the opportunity to discuss it again. I also congratulate him on the way in which he did it, its absence of party spirit showing the unity of this House and of the British people on this issue.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who has recently been to Gibraltar. I had hoped that the timetable would permit him to have three or four minutes to support his hon. Friend, but our proceedings on a Friday mean that Adjournment debates are somewhat curtailed.

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

No. We have a full half-hour.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

On a point of order. Is it not the practice, Mr. Speaker, for an Adjournment debate to last for a full half-hour, even if it starts after four o'clock? This debate started at five minutes past Four.

Mr. Speaker

An Adjournment debate can always run for 30 minutes. Do not let us waste more of the time than we need.

Mr. Padley

I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

The fact that there has been no material change in the situation at the La Linea frontier since early in March does not mean that the problem facing the people of Gibraltar has been shelved or in any way forgotten by Her Majesty's Government.

The Government are very conscious of the continued concern of hon. Members both at the difficulties still being experienced by the people of Gibraltar because of the restrictions and at the longer-term question of finding a solution to a problem which has intermittently bedevilled our relations with Spain over the years.

Despite a further exchange of Notes and some protests, since the publication of the White Paper and our last debate, there has been no advance in the Spanish position and no indication of any willingness on their part to make talks possible on any terms but those set out in earlier approaches to Her Majesty's Government; these amounted to invitations to us to negotiate under duress. We have none the less reiterated—and I should like to make this quite clear once more—that we have no desire whatever to quarrel with Spain and should welcome a return to normal good relations. We are willing to hold conversations with the Spanish Government once normal conditions are restored at the Gibraltar frontier.

Although we are not prepared to embark on negotiations about sovereignty over Gibraltar, we have at no time wished to insist on pre-conditions for conversations with Spain—as envisaged by the Committee of Twenty-Four—in a way which would prevent these from starting.

For the time being, however, I am bound to report that the Spanish campaign against Gibraltar continues unabated. Faced with these difficulties, the stalwart and loyal behaviour of the people of Gibraltar, to which I am glad to pay the warmest tribute, has attracted the admiration of the Government and of the whole of Britain.

In the course of the debate on the Adjournment on 15th April the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) said that we should have to show a good deal of patience and firmness in this situation. I am sure that the whole House agrees that these are qualities which have been demon- strated to the full in Gibraltar during recent months.

I hope that this demonstration of fortitude and adaptability has not passed unnoticed in Spain and that the Spanish Government will draw the right conclusion from it; namely, that a policy of obstruction and harassment will neither force the British Government to negotiate under duress nor intimidate the people of Gibraltar.

As my hon. Friend made clear in the last debate about Gibraltar, the Gibraltar Constitution introduced in 1964 made a purely internal change which does not affect Gibraltar's international status. There is, therefore, no question of Spanish interests being affected in any way by this change. But, we would, at any talks which may follow the restoration of the situation at the frontier to normal, be quite ready to discuss with Spain any apprehensions which they may have on this score.

We have had no request from Gibraltar for further constitutional change and we have no intention of putting any further changes in hand. The present Constitution gives a large measure of responsibility for running their own internal affairs to the people of Gibraltar, while leaving control of defence and external affairs to Her Majesty's Government. This situation meets the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and they have made it abundantly clear that they wish to continue their present close association with this country under British sovereignty. Democratic and representative institutions are firmly established there and I am sure that the whole House wishes to see these maintained.

I turn to the question which has been of concern to many hon. Members—the action which Her Majesty's Government is taking to redeem their pledge, not only to stand by the people of Gibraltar in their present difficulties but also to take whatever measures may be necessary to defend and sustain them.

In answering the debate on 15th April, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies gave details of some of the measures intended to secure a readjustment of the Gibraltar economy as well as an indication of the financial assistance which will be given to help the Gibraltar Government in the period covered by the new Overseas Development Bill. In addition, we are of course already assisting Gibraltar by the provision of experts under our technical assistance programmes.

It would, however, be unrealistic to expect that measures to readjust the economy of Gibraltar could have been completed and have had effect in the short time since it became clear that Spain was carrying on a systematic campaign against Gibraltar. Measures of this sort require extensive consideration in the Colony and careful investigation against the background of the scarce resources of land and labour.

It must also be borne in mind that, in economic affairs, a wide measure of responsibility has been delegated by the Governor to Gibraltar Ministers appointed under the new Constitution; and it would be wrong to direct the readjustment of Gibraltar's economy from London without respecting local responsibility and initiative. But we have no doubt that the economy can indeed be adjusted to make it more self-sufficient, and measures to this end are going forward. We will do all we can to assist them.

The Selwyn Report was prepared by the senior economic adviser to the Colonial Office during a visit to Gibraltar early this year. This report was made to the Government of Gibraltar, who have now completed their examination of it and have just sent the Colonial Secretary their considered views on the extent to which they consider that measures can be taken to strengthen the Gibraltar economy.

I understand that the Gibraltar Government have been considering town planning, future traffic problems, the problem of labour and the supply of capital in the promotion of tourism and industrial development. They are sending their Financial and Development Secretary to London shortly to discuss ways in which their recommendations can be carried out.

Two experts from the Commonwealth Development Corporation have also visited Gibraltar recently to advise the Government on the possibilities of setting up a Gibraltar Development Corporation. This was a proposal which arose from consideration of the Selwyn Report, and the cost of the visits was met by the Ministry of Overseas Development. These two experts are now preparing their report, which will be made available to the Gibraltar Government in the next few weeks.

The Gibraltar Government have asked for a land-use expert to serve them for a year to advise on the best use of the little land which is available in Gibraltar. The Ministry of Overseas Development has agreed to provide the money for this purpose and to recruit a suitable person. Advice is also required in developing tourism and industry and the Gibraltar Government has decided that a comprehensive study is required, dealing with these developments and with the town planning, labour, housing and general economic aspects of them.

They have therefore accepted an offer from a consortium of Gibraltar and British companies to provide a study group to prepare a development plan for their consideration. The consortium will make use of the services of well-known town planners, architects, economists and other experts and will prepare a plan which is expected to be available by the autumn. I am sure that this will be of great value to the Government of Gibraltar and I am glad to be able to announce that the Ministry of Overseas Development has agreed to provide the greater part of the cost to the Government of this survey.

The House is, I know, well aware of the housing problem in Gibraltar, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Before the present difficulties caused by the frontier restrictions began, the Gibraltar Government had a waiting list of about 1,400 people requiring some 800 houses or flats. In addition about 500 of the British subjects who were obliged to leave the Campo area of Spain and move to Gibraltar are being accommodated by the Gibraltar Government in temporary quarters and will have to be found more permanent accommodation. To meet these problems the Gibraltar Government already has plans for the building of 414 flats. The provision of funds under the Overseas Development Act will allow them to increase the amount of house-building.

From this brief survey of the economic and social problems in Gibraltar, I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate both the size of the problems involved, and also the fact that they are being tackled with resolution and thoroughness. The Gibraltar Government, with our help, are seeking to build on solid foundations to readjust their economy to the new situation in a way which, it is to be hoped, will have a lasting effect.

As to counter action which might be taken against Spain, I said in the debate on 11th February that I did not really think that hon. Members would wish to engage in the same sort of harassment and obstructionism as the Spanish authorities had decided to indulge in. We are pledged to defend and sustain the people of Gibraltar and we will take any measures necessary to this end. But at the present time I do not believe that a policy of harassment such as that followed by the Spanish authorities is the appropriate way to help the people of Gibraltar. Indeed, such action could lead them into further difficulties.

The people of Gibraltar are showing the Spanish Government and the world that they are determined, with our help, to carry on their present way of life under difficult circumstances. We and they have no intention of being rushed into ill-advised action. Nor have we any intention of abandoning or compromising either their interests or our own.

4.29 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I am delighted to have this brief opportunity of associating myself with the moderate, cogent and statesmanlike speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). This is an example of the more fruitful forms of ecumenical co-operation. Like my hon. Friend, I have returned recently from Gibraltar. I can vouch for the truth of much of what he has said and for the great appreciation at present in Gibraltar of the activities of the right hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. Her reputation stands very high among Gibraltarians. Like both the previous speakers, I regard this conflict as a tragedy for Spain and a tragedy for Gibraltar.

I do not want to take sides as such, but, if a choice has to be made, if I may in these rather different circum- stances adopt the words of the former Leader of the Tory Party, I am on the side of the apes. The people of Gibraltar do not want to be merged into Spain. Gibraltar is unique in that it is the only Colony which really wants to remain a Colony. It has certainly disconcerted by its attitude the United Nations Committee of Twenty-four when it considered the Gibraltar problem. It is very satisfying to find a cause where one's libertarian and loyalist instincts happily coincide.

I hope that the Government of Spain will take note that by their actions in Gibraltar they are alienating many of their best friends in England. There are friends of Spain in all parts of the House, but they are found especially in my party. The Spanish Government should note that they are losing the good will of the natural friends of Spain and gaining nothing in return. I welcome the statement by the Minister of State. Foreign Office. I hope that he will continue to show the people of Gibraltar that they have the unflinching support of the Government in deciding their own fate.

I do not favour reprisals against Spain, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to work tirelessly through diplomatic channels to obtain a satisfactory settlement with Spain. In this connection, I suggest that he might make use of the mediatorial services of the Holy See to obtain a settlement between these two profoundly Catholic peoples. If he succeeds in gaining a settlement there he will earn the gratitude of all the friends of Spain in this House and in the country, and indeed throughout the world.

4.32 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I wish to press the Minister of State on one aspect of this matter. As he knows, it is now eight months since what I might call the Gibraltar ordeal began. Her Majesty's Government have paid a great deal of encouraging and warm-hearted lip-service, of which his admirable speech was a further example, to the idea of support for Gibraltar throughout that whole period, but nothing effective has been done which would be actually helpful to Gibraltar.

I must say to the hon. Member that I think the Government are trying the loyalty and patience of this Colony very highly indeed by inaction on their behalf vis-à-vis Spain. I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) about reprisals, but the hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). I do not say that those are ideal remedies, but it is for the Government to propose, not the Opposition to suggest, what would be suitable. We are giving the impression to the people of Gibraltar that we are allowing Spain to get away with this absolutely, completely and all the time. I urge the Government and the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has this matter very much at heart, to hear this in mind. Reprisals is a nasty word, but we ought to make it rather clearer to Spain than we, have done that this may not be allowed to continue forever and that we have certain sanctions of our own if we care to use them. This should be put clearly to the Spanish Government.

Mr. Padley

Of course we have registered diplomatic protests. We have made—

The Question having been proposed after Four 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 twenty-one minutes to Five o'clock.